For those who have resolved to make 2020 the year they start prioritising a good night’s sleep, it would not be advisable to make bedtime reading of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) new report on South Africa’s electricity crisis. Released as a 63-page slide deck, the report is truly the stuff of nightmares and, for the insomnia prone, far more potent than even a double espresso after supper.
Expertly compiled by the CSIR Energy Centre’s Dr Jarrad Wright and Joanne Calitz, the report draws on the most up-to-date information about the performance of Eskom’s coal fleet to assess overall system adequacy, as well as the likely size of the country’s electricity capacity and energy gaps for the coming three years. Their conclusions are beyond terrifying, particularly those outlined on Slide 12, which suggest that South Africa is poised to enter a protracted and worsening load-shedding cycle.
Already, 2019 was the country’s worst load-shedding year on record, with 1 353 GWh, or 530 hours, of rotational cuts implemented during the 12-month period at an estimated economic cost of between R60-billion and R120-billion. Worryingly, the report warns that, in the absence of urgent action, there could be nearly 2 000 GWh of load-shedding in store for this year, rising to about 3 000 GWh and 4 600 GWh in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
The good news is that the authors also make a series of highly practical recommendations to dramatically lower the system-inadequacy risk. Besides making a few slight tweaks to regulations blocking a host of pent-up supply options, the balance of the recommendations require only that already agreed policy be implemented.
As is well documented, implementation in South Africa is easier said than done, and, in this instance, will require a serious shift in attitude and approach from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE).
For instance, instead of seeking to renegotiate tariffs with independent power producers (IPPs), the DMRE should ask the IPP Office to assess the prospect of extracting more energy from the existing solar and wind farms.
Instead of delaying the renewable-energy bid windows to facilitate the entry of a new State-owned generation company, procurement programmes should immediately be launched, possibly with an emphasis on greater black ownership.
Instead of tying up self-generation projects in ridiculous red tape, embrace distributed generation as part of the solution by making the regulatory changes needed to unlock these projects.
And instead of making a power grab for Eskom, rather exert peer pressure on the Department of Public Enterprises to leverage its authority over the utility in a manner that ensures that long- delayed projects are commissioned and existing plants are fixed.
The solutions to closing the supply-demand gap do exist, can be funded and will not deviate materially from a future least-cost system. It’s now time to unleash these solutions and stop viewing them as the problem.