South Africa’s Energy Crisis: A Light at the End of the Tunnel?

How an exemption granted by the government may help reduce load-shedding and boost economic recovery

by Motoni Olodun

South Africa has been facing a severe electricity crisis for years, with frequent and prolonged power cuts that have disrupted the economy and the lives of millions of people. The leading cause of the crisis is the aging and unreliable coal-fired power plants that generate most of the country’s electricity.

However, there may be some hope for a brighter future, as the country’s electricity minister announced that South Africa was finally turning the corner in generating enough energy capacity. Kgosientso Ramokgopa said that the progress was made as a result of an exemption granted by the government to allow Eskom, the state-owned power utility, to exceed the emission limits at the Kusile power station, one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the world.

The Kusile power station is still under construction and has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns. It was supposed to add 4,800 megawatts of capacity to the grid, but three of its six units had to be taken offline last year due to a failure of the flue gas desulphurization unit, which reduces the amount of sulfur dioxide released into the atmosphere. This meant the country lost 2,400 megawatts of power, equivalent to about 5% of its total demand.

Ramokgopa said that Eskom had been given a 12-month reprieve to operate the three units without the flue gas desulphurization unit until December 2024 while it repairs the damaged stacks. He said this would add 1,600 megawatts of power to the grid by November this year and another 800 megawatts by December. He also said that a fourth unit would be operational by December this year, bringing the total capacity of Kusile to 3,200 megawatts.

The minister said that this would help reduce the frequency and duration of load-shedding, which is the deliberate cutting of power to avoid a total grid collapse. He said that Eskom had also implemented other measures to improve its performance, such as increasing its maintenance budget, securing more coal supplies, and using renewable energy sources.

Ramokgopa’s announcement was welcomed by some experts and business leaders, who said it was a positive sign for South Africa’s energy security and economic recovery. However, others remained skeptical and warned that Eskom still faced many challenges and risks, such as aging infrastructure, corruption, debt, and environmental impacts.

According to GlobalData, South Africa’s electricity demand is expected to grow by 2.6% annually until 2030, while its supply is projected to increase by only 1.9% annually. This means the country will still face a power deficit of about 5 gigawatts by 2030 unless it invests more in new generation capacity and energy efficiency.

The government has announced plans to procure more power from independent producers and diversify its energy mix with more renewables and gas. It has also launched a program to encourage households and businesses to install solar panels and batteries to reduce their reliance on Eskom.

South Africa’s energy crisis is not unique in Africa, where many countries struggle with inadequate and unreliable power supply. According to the International Energy Agency, about 580 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, while those with access face frequent outages and high costs.

The agency said that Africa needs to invest $120 billion annually until 2030 to achieve universal access to electricity and meet its growing demand. It also said that Africa has abundant renewable energy resources that could provide clean and affordable power for its people and industries.

South Africa’s energy crisis may not be over yet, but there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. With more investment, innovation, and cooperation, the country may be able to overcome its challenges and secure its energy future.

Source: MSN

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