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‘Eskom must get back to basics’

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South Africa’s energy crisis may well be greater than first anticipated, according to the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), who recently released a report detailing the extent of the country’s electricity shortfall. IRR’s policy bulletin, written by Andrew Kenny, an engineer and energy expert, deals with the Eskom calamity and how it can be overcome.

South Africa’s precarious electricity supply presents a national crisis. The desperate shortage of electricity is crippling our economy. Because of inadequate generation capacity, our existing power stations, now creaking with age and wear, are being run into the ground and failing more and more often.

Their availability – ability to produce power at any moment – is dropping dangerously and the new power stations are years behind schedule. According to the research, regardless of when the Medupi and Kusile power stations become fully operational on the national grid, the country is still unlikely to have sufficient electricity to power even “modest economic growth”.

The IRR report was based off data from utility provider Eskom, and sought to uncover what the situation would be like in 2030 if immediate policy changes on the part of government were not brought about. Furthermore, they also sought to pose viable solutions to help remedy South Africa’s energy woes.

“We found that even in 15 years time, if change isn’t made, we could well still be facing an energy crisis, possibly even one worse than we have now,” said IRR head of media and public affairs, Mienke Mari Steytler.

Although several other independent parties have been introduced onto the national grid, Eskom remains the main source of energy for the majority of South Africans. Most are indirectly dependent on the utility provider, through the electricity supply, to help pull them away from poverty. And with no progress being made in the introduction of alternate energy sources the situation is likely to get worse, with ordinary South Africans bearing the brunt of the costs.

Steytler said much of the problem came down to the lack of planning on both the part of Eskom and government, especially since there was a realization as early as 2004 that the country could run out of electricity.

“Even from 1994 onwards, there were talks of privatizing Eskom and nothing really happened. I think they just hoped that the existing power stations would carry the load. The problem with the existing stations is that they were built in the 1970s, and have reached their 40 year lifespan,” she said.

She also lamented a lack of “passion” on the part of those running Eskom, suggesting that since the company came under state ownership, many working at for the company were somewhat out of their depth.

“What the report says is that, lets return Eskom to its original state. It doesn’t have to become a private company; it can stay within government (control), but let’s make it a purely generating company. Let’s employ people who are electrical engineering nerds who are passionate about this,” she stated.

Furthermore, she suggested allowing competition in the market, which would not only help spread the energy load, but also keep Eskom on its toes. The IRR report suggests that should the economy grow by a GDP rate of 3% annually, the country may well struggle to keep up with the electricity demand. By 2030 South Africa may well require another 18 000MW of energy, equivalent to 8 more Koeberg stations. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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