South Africa’s latest load shedding ‘unicorn’ is not the answer: expert

 ·19 May 2023

The transport department’s decision to give Karpowerships the go-ahead to moor at three different posts along the South African coastline for more than 20 years is not a viable solution to load shedding in the short term and will cost the country heavily.

On top of this, the possibility of using power ships to decrease severe rolling blackouts while maintaining support for the transition to renewables is outside of reality.

This is according to Liziwe McDaid, the strategic lead for the Green Connection, an organisation challenging the deployment of power ships across South Africa.

McDaid said that, looking at the small print of the department’s permissions, the ships will only be allowed to moor at the ports provided all other necessary approvals are granted.

She added that, so far, the environmental approvals have failed not once but twice – meaning the full go-ahead may be some ways off.

“Additionally, the electricity generation license is also under review by civil society organisations – OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse in South Africa) and also The Green Connection.”

“We think it is important that South Africans know and understand exactly how the pricing for electricity from Karpower will work because it is linked to the Dollar/Rand exchange rate and international gas prices.”

International gas prices recently have been significantly elevated given the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, while the South African rand has also been in the dumps reaching a record low on 12 May following allegations that South Africa supplied arms to Russia.

“It is, therefore, critical that the people should fully understand the costs before we can agree to anything,” McDaid said.

Because of all these hiccups, McDaid said that she does not believe that Karpower is coming anytime soon.

She added that even if it were to be operational, it would not help with load shedding this winter because of the time it will take to get the required approvals and, if successful, set up operations.

“Karpower is not the emergency solution the country needs. What we need now is short-term South African-based electricity generation that can contribute to the grid very speedily,” said McDaid.

The three harbours in question are situated in Richards Bay, Saldanha Bay and Coega.

The deployment of the power ships is largely based on the request of mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe who has been a longstanding supporter of the initiative and was empowered to procure new capacity.

Karpowerships are floating power plants that generate electricity using a combination of conventional power generation technologies, such as gas turbines or diesel engines, and a unique marine system for cooling.

These ships use seawater for cooling, which allows for them to be transported to countries across the globe that are in dire need of power.

Before South Africa being a possible docking spot, other countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, Gambia and Cuba used the company’s services.

Going against South Africa’s just energy transition to make a significant shift to green energy, the Karpowerships rely solely on fossil fuels.

The use of fossil fuels can contribute to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and, specifically, being stationed in the water, which could likely affect the biodiversity of South Africa’s coastline.

Moreover, the costs associated with operating and maintaining Karpowership, including fuel expenses and potential environmental mitigation measures, can be substantial.

Earlier this Friday (19 May), the Department of Transport, under a section 79 notice, granted consent for the Turkish power company to moor its ship-mounted power plants in the three harbours.

According to the department, approval was granted in line with the National Ports Act that empowers the minister. It further noted that the directive remains subject to all other government approvals such as Environmental approvals from competent government departments and/or authorities.

The deployment and operation of these power ships are a long way from becoming a reality. Around every turn, they have faced backlash or legal pushback.

As it stands, the contract is expected to last 20 years in an effort to lessen initial costs; however, this has raised concern over the extended use of fossil fuels.

Read: Eskom to ease load shedding again this weekend – here’s the new schedule

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