May is National Energy Month in South Africa. The theme for 2021, at this late stage has not been announced yet, which could result in a powerful themeless month.
When one thinks of power generation in South Africa, the reaction is to immediately associate this with the energy crisis and load shedding. Load shedding is Eskom’s way of handling a situation where the energy demand outstrips the productive capacity of the country. It is done because time is needed to perform maintenance and service plants, allowing for refuelling of gas and water supplies thus handling the capacity constraints without losing the entire grid.
The South African Energy Crisis is ongoing with South Africa experiencing widespread rolling blackouts as supply falls behind demand, threatening to destabilise the national grid. It began in the latter part of 2007 and continues to this day.
South Africa experienced its worst energy crisis when load shedding Stage 6 was activated for the first time ever in December 2020. Eskom stated that of its total nominal capacity of around 44,000 MW, it was unable to provide around 13,000 MW of total capacity, resulting in the nationwide blackouts.
A new report by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) shows South Africa was hit by almost 860 hours of load shedding in 2020.
Despite more than R450 billion spent on the Kusile and Medupi power stations, and the rise of sustainable power sources, South Africa's ability to generate electricity has declined by 10% over the past decade. Medupi and Kusile have such serious design flaws that they must be taken out of commission for weeks at a time, to do corrective work.
Eskom needs Government support of R1 billion a week – or some R6 million an hour – to remain operationally stable in 2021. This was revealed during a recent presentation to Parliament, where the utility warned of a challenging year ahead due to a drop in electricity sales because of COVID-19.
Unless Eskom can successfully rollout its maintenance programme and replace capacity generated by retiring power plants, load shedding is likely to persist.
The country is running out of time and money, it cannot afford another round of misguided advice and ineffective efforts.