Ramaphosa calls for patience as South Africans vent anger over load shedding

 ·26 Sep 2022

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that widespread public anger in the face of load shedding is wholly justified, but asks citizens to have patience as the government makes progress in trying to stop the energy crisis.

In his weekly letter to the public, Ramaphosa said there is a sense of despair among South Africans that the load shedding situation does not seem to be improving and that there appears to be no end to this crisis.

However, he assured that the country is making progress in implementing the additional actions announced in the July energy crisis plan – even though the effects may not be immediately felt.

“Even in the darkness of load shedding, there is and must be an end to our electricity crisis,” he said.

In July, Ramaphosa announced a new energy plan that included, among other things:

  • The removal of  a cap on private electricity generation
  • A temporary relaxation of local content requirements and red tape on licensing and environmental requirements in certain low-risk areas
  • New bid windows and integrated resource plan
  • Incentivizing rooftop solar and grid connections
  • A renewed push to improve Eskom plant reliability

Despite these initiatives, the president said that the unpredictable performance of the national power utility Eskom would not allow for load shedding to come to an end in the short term.

“This is the unfortunate reality of our situation, which has had a long history.”

The presidency has been promising the end of load shedding for years.

In response to a question from the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in 2015, Ramaphosa – then serving as deputy president – said that load-shedding would be over by September 2017 at the latest.

In 2019, he said that a clear strategy for Eskom’s recovery was being finalised. In 2020, he spoke of a plan to fix Eskom in his State of the Nation address – and in 2021, Ramaphosa told the media that load shedding would be significantly reduced from September 2021.

Fast forward to 2022, however, and South Africa is now coming off the back of its worst week of load shedding ever, with analysts predicting that the situation is going to get much worse.

The Bureau for Economic Research (BER) reported that its Energy Availability Factor (EAF) was as low as 53.16% for the week ending 16 September – this is expected to be 51% for the whole year as load shedding continues.

Ramaphosa said that the government’s immediate plan is to reduce the frequency and severity of load shedding by addressing power station breakdowns.

“This is a significant challenge given the average age of power stations, and that in the past, critical maintenance was not undertaken at the necessary intervals.”

People with experience in running power stations are being brought back to help with plant operation, management and mentorship, added the president.

Eskom has also been in the process of procuring additional generation from independent power producers.

Last week, the government launched power purchase programmes for 1,000MW of emergency capacity from companies with existing generation capacity and to secure imports from neighbouring countries, said Ramaphosa.

The government has also signed power purchase agreements for 420MW with the first three preferred bidders under Bid Window 5 of the renewable energy programme.

The three projects are expected to connect to the grid in October 2024, and preparations are underway to sign with the remaining 22 preferred bidders, said Ramaphosa.

Although the government has put in place such programmes, their execution has fallen short. Busi Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), said that the projects had been severely delayed, with the renewable projects, for example, meant to have been finalised by now.

Mavuso said that the government had failed in that it did not allow for projects to close swiftly but instead fell victim to frequent and costly delays.

Personal liability

President Cyril Ramaphosa is now calling on South Africans to make an effort to reduce the amount of electricity they use.

“While we work to increase the supply of electricity, we must increase efforts to reduce demand, particularly at peak times,” said Ramaphosa.

We must come together as citizens to alleviate the pressure on the national grid, said the president: This means using electricity sparingly, reporting illegal connections and paying for the electricity we use.

Businesses, households and government departments that owe Eskom must pay up so that Eskom is better able to undertake the critical maintenance that is needed to keep the lights.

“As we continue to experience load shedding, there is a temptation to give up hope that we will ever solve this problem. Yet, if we look just beyond the most immediate crisis, there are real signs of progress and good reasons to be optimistic.”

Read: Beware ‘cheap’ solar systems in South Africa – they will cost you

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