Real solution does not lie within Eskom
By Melani Nathan
Since I can remember, Eskom has leaned heavily on South Africans, regularly asking users to reduce their demand. Timers on geysers, low energy usage appliances and boiling just what you need in the kettle have become very South African habits. Consumers were led to believe that paying ever-increasing tariffs (to cover the costs of plant maintenance) and reducing electricity usage would make a difference.
As Eskom gets the go-ahead to increase tariffs and change its fee structure, it should be noted that this time, the consumer isn’t at fault and Eskom can’t play the blame game any longer.
In March 2020, South Africa’s industry and economy came to a near standstill when the country went into lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Businesses that ordinarily consumed large amounts of energy ceased their operations. In the 14th week of 2020, Eskom’s “Electricity Sent Out” (ESO), which reflects demand fell to about 32% lower than the same week in 2019. The ESO stayed below the weekly levels recorded in the prior year, except for the week of traditional festive holidays in December.
Despite a large reduction in demand, Eskom has been unable to provide an adequate, stable supply of electricity. Eskom says it is implementing a maintenance programme to improve generation and plant performance but warns that significant improvements can only be expected in September 2021.
Loadshedding has been at the worst level since 2015 (103 days of loadshedding) with 52 days of scheduled rotational power cuts in 2020.
The ‘Electricity Availability Factor’ measures the operationality of Eskom power plants. This counter was lower than in 2019, showing a deterioration in plant performance and maintenance. As economic activity resumes in the country, the unreliable electricity supply is constraining recovery. By the government’s own admission, reform is urgently needed. Eskom’s operation Vulindlela aims to:
- Reduce the administrative burden of generation projects smaller than 50 megawatts while ensuring that they meet the necessary environmental approvals and do not risk the stability of the grid.
- Fast track the procurement of additional electricity in line with the Integrated Resource Plan 2019
- Improve municipal infrastructure through private-sector investment and implementing a national programme to support electricity planning and procurement.
South Africans can only hope that Operation Vulindlela and the promised procurement plans involving independent private producers will be successful in releasing the country from the suffocating grip of power shortages.