load shedding

Busisiwe Mavuso | Only political will can address load shedding woes

POSTED ON: January 20, 2023 IN by Admin
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By Busisiwe Mavuso

There are many legacy issues that remain unresolved while new problems keep arising, demanding priority status.

The horrors of South Africans having to endure 12 hours a day without electricity seems to have injected a new sense of urgency into our political leadership. BLSA welcomes the renewed engagement on the crisis from parts of government and remains fully committed to working with the state to deliver on solutions that resolve it as soon as is possible.

But while we’re preparing proposals for ways to alleviate the extreme bouts of loadshedding there’s a sense of despair that we’re doing it all over again. The solutions have been tabled time and time again while those that have been adopted as policy appear to be in limbo, somehow always coming up against a new obstacle to delay their implementation.

Quite frankly, until there is political will across government, particularly among all cabinet ministers, it’ll just be more of the same. Solutions will be proposed, perhaps some new ones adopted, but effective implementation remains out of reach and the crisis worsens by the day – as has been happening since the first bouts of loadshedding in 2007. Despite the need for more generation capacity being highlighted in the late 1990s, we have still not managed to add enough megawatts to the grid to meet demand.

Because of that failure we’ve now been suffering stage 6 loadshedding with forecasts that it is likely to rise possibly to stage 8 in June/July. Suddenly those 2.5-hour stints that characterise stage 4 seem a luxury. No wonder we cannot attract investment, grow the economy and reduce unemployment.

My loadshedding app shows that stage 8 means 13.5 hours a day without power. We’ll have power in just three stints of 3.5 hours each to recharge all devices and prepare meals etc. for the next dark stretch – assuming you’re not hit by an unplanned extended session which occurs regularly. It’s emotionally distressing within households but for small businesses, many of which have invested in coping for shorter stints without power, it could be the final death knell.

There are many legacy issues that remain unresolved while new problems keep arising, demanding priority status. The result is that so many different areas need urgent attention that everything seems to remain in paralysis so that an important aspect such as incentivising households and businesses to get off grid, possibly through tax rebates for solar and invertor costs, barely makes it on to the agenda.

Neglect of the big issues, however, is hugely problematic. For example, Eskom remains one massive, inefficient entity with high levels of corruption even though Cabinet approved its restructuring into three separate businesses (generation, transmission and distribution) way back in October 2019 after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced it in that year’s state-of-the-nation address (Sona). Similarly, Transnet’s inefficiency is crippling economic growth and job creation but its unbundling also appears to be at a standstill despite the president having announced it in June 2021 and it having been enacted in the National Ports Act in 2006. The restructuring of both state utilities is urgently required  to improve efficiencies and reduce concentration risk by introducing  private sector participation.

Transmission constraints in the Cape provinces have emerged as the new priority area to address in the energy crisis but this seems to be a nonstarter in government thinking because only private sector participation can resolve the funding problem.

BLSA is assessing whether there are ways to incentivise independent power producers to develop power plants in other provinces where grid capacity isn’t as constrained. Here battery storage solutions are important because conditions for renewable energy aren’t as ideal as in the Northern and Eastern Cape. But again, implementation failure has stymied progress. President Ramaphosa promised in his Sona last year that a request for proposals for 500MW of battery storage would be issued in 2022, which never happened. In parliament in November he said the RFP would happen “soon”.

A more effective solution would be liberalising the battery storage market in the grid-constrained areas, which alleviates the grid constraints through increasing the hours that electricity is despatched along the grid.

Eskom has presented a detailed plan stating that R72bn over five years needs to be spent just on upgrading the grid’s transmission capacity. The paralysis within government on this issue is ensuring that load shedding will continue plaguing us far longer than is necessary.

None of the measures will have an immediate impact even if implemented quickly. As Carol Paton wrote earlier this week (Eskom and Treasury at odds over diesel funds as load shedding crisis deepens), the only immediate way to reduce load shedding is for Eskom to burn more diesel to power its open-cycle gas turbines. That raises the problem of funding, with Eskom strapped for cash and National Treasury reportedly reluctant to approve it. Given the high levels of procurement corruption, one wonders who Eskom procures diesel from and at what margin.

Until there is political will to resolve the main problems highlighted above, particularly transmission capacity and rejuvenating the failing REIPPP Programme, the day we can finally press the “done” button on load shedding will be pushed out further and further into the future.

*Busisiwe Mavuso (@BusiMavuso2) is the CEO of BLSAThis article first appeared in News24 Business.

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