On Wednesday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had an urgent meeting with his cabinet to examine the nation’s electrical issue, resulting in historically high levels of widespread power outages in Africa’s most advanced economy.
Blackouts: Electricity Issue
Rolling blackouts are being implemented by the struggling state-owned power provider Eskom, which generates roughly 95% of the nation’s electricity and is battling to keep it’s outdated and poorly maintained coal-fired power stations running.
After attending the burial of Queen Elizabeth II in London, Ramaphosa returned home to preside over the meeting with his ministers. His travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly was postponed.
Stage 6 power cuts, which result in families and businesses going without energy for longer than ten hours a day, had already begun to be implemented by Eskom. Since then, the corporation has lowered the level to Stage 5, which forces South Africans to live without electricity for up to eight hours per day.
Other government services are also being impacted by the blackouts, including water supplies in some regions, as electric-powered pumps come to a standstill.
Economists have issued stern warnings on the impact of the outages, given that South Africa’s economy is already trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the official South African statistics agency StatsSA, Eskom’s less severe power shortages, or load-shedding as the utility calls it, were a significant factor in the economy’s 0.7% second-quarter contraction earlier in the year.
Blackouts occasionally only receive a few hours’ notice from Eskom.
According to Jannie Rossouw, an economist at Johannesburg’s University of The Witwatersrand, “it is quite difficult to understand what will happen next.” Will load shedding stages eventually decrease, will we return to Stage 6, or may we perhaps go past Stage 6 in the upcoming months?
If Eskom can’t plan its capacity, Rossouw added, “it is just about impossible for the general population and businesses in South Africa to prepare.”
Nearly all economic sectors have been negatively impacted, and last week the leading telecommunications companies in South Africa warned that frequent blackouts would begin to damage their services.
Michele Gamberini, the chief technology and information officer at MTN South Africa, stated that although the company presently uses enhanced power backup batteries to keep its cellular towers operational, protracted blackouts could result in a loss of services.
According to Gamberini, the effectiveness of such batteries significantly decreases once we reach Stage 4 load-shedding, despite the fact that we have installed hundreds of batteries at our sites across the nation.
According to a statement, the corporation added more than 2,000 diesel-powered generators to its facilities to combat the lengthy blackouts.
Eskom is working against the clock to secure extra capacity from independent power suppliers using renewable energy sources like wind and solar. To lessen the burden of the blackouts, it has proposed a scheme to urgently buy at least 1,000 megawatts of electricity from the private sector.
A South African public utility that provides the power is called Eskom Hld SOC Ltd. The Electricity Supply Commission (ESCOM), commonly known by its Afrikaans name Elektrisiteitsvoorsieningskommissie, was founded in 1923. . In the Southern African Power Pool, Eskom is South Africa’s representative. The utility was once one of the top utilities in the world in terms of generation capacity and sales but has subsequently fallen in both categories. It is the largest producer of power in Africa. Low-income people have recently (2022) contested Eskom’s revenue collections, and the corporation has retaliated by threatening to cut off power to particular residents.
It is the biggest state-owned company in South Africa. Eskom manages several essential power plants, including the only nuclear power plant in Africa, the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in the Western Cape Province, and the Matimba and Medupi power plants in Lephalale, Kusile near Witbank, Kendal in Cape Town, and several others.
Eskom, divided into the divisions of generation, transmission, and distribution, produces roughly 95% of the power used in South Africa, or 45% of the entire electricity consumed in Africa, and 42% of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Eskom is also the world’s top emitter of Sulphur dioxide in the power sector, with 1.6 million tons of emissions into the atmosphere in 2019. Due to its significant debt and unreliable supply, Eskom was announced to be divided into three separate national-owned enterprises in 2019.
A deal was made at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference to have wealthy nations pay for South Africa’s switch from coal to renewable energy. However, this transformation is threatened by employment in the mining industry.
Opposition parties have urged Ramaphosa to oust the ministers in charge of state-owned businesses and the energy industry. His administration defended itself by claiming it took over a broken Eskom, the source of allegations of significant public corruption under former President Jacob Zuma.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan says, “We genuinely lament how our electricity provision, which is coming from Eskom, is hurting both our households and the economy.” But this is the Eskom we took over, and this is the Eskom we’re working extremely hard to fix.
At the party’s elective conference in December, Ramaphosa’s adversaries are already attempting to remove him from his position as head of the ruling African National Congress.