RPT - REVIEW - COVID-19 Limelights Blemishes Of South Africa's Electricity Grid Management

RPT - REVIEW - COVID-19 Limelights Blemishes of South Africa's Electricity Grid Management

JOHANNESBURG (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 13th February, 2021) Concerns are mounting in South Africa over frequent blackouts and a lack of secure electricity supplies to health care facilities during COVID-19 as state-owned power provider Eskom laments aging infrastructure and deficient finance.

Eskom's website describes it as a "strategic 100% state-owned electricity utility, strongly supported by the government."

The company generates an estimated 95 percent of the electricity used in South Africa, which amounts to 45 percent of all African consumption, and emits 42 percent of South Africa's total greenhouse gas. There are currently 46 Eskom power stations across the country.

Eskom spokesman Sikhonathi Mantshantsha told Sputnik that 13 out of 46 stations are out of service.

"If each and every power station was working, then we would not be in the situation that we are in. These are 50-year-old power stations. The best thing that we can do right now is to regularly maintain our machines," Mantshantsha said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his State of the Nation address on Thursday that the nation needed to rapidly expand its electricity grid. He said Eskom should restore its integrity.

Mantshantsha agreed with the president's statement, saying that "until we as Eskom fix our power stations and end load-shedding by reducing breakdowns significantly, it would mean that between now and a certain time South Africans will have to experience outages."

He stressed, however, that the overhaul and expansion of the grid would require the government's support. This applies to such obstacles as, for example, the fact that building more power stations will require more electricity usage.

"We need to build solar stations. It is the government that must allow this. The Department of Mineral Resources makes policy and arrangements in terms of how many power stations are needed, who owns them and what kind of technology will be needed. They are also responsible for issuing licenses for these power stations to be built. They have also drafted and integrated resource plan over the next thirty years," Mantshantsha continued.

With the current power stations using open-cycle gas turbines and the supply of electricity interrupted as necessary, more demand than supply will lead them to tripping, according to the spokesman.


South Africans have been all along bracing themselves for no electricity during the day and dark nights. Many businesses have complained that this disturbs their operations and it is all because Eskom is in a financial crisis. In most instances, schooling has also been disturbed, as were the municipal, provincial and national services.

Energy analyst Ted Blom has in the past been vocally critical of Eskom's way of doing things.

"I think Eskom is in an impossible space and that the massive 'reliability maintenance' was totally underestimated by Eskom leadership, as was their assessment of the negative impact on the economy and people's lives," Blom told Sputnik.

Between 2008 and 2013, Blom said he had reached out to Eskom on numerous occasions with proposals of solutions such as to "import power" via power barges or the like.

"It is not yet too late to do this, and it would be foolish to keep throttling the economy to 'save Eskom' - as the throttling is killing off the economy and increasing unemployment," Bloom argued.

President Ramaphosa, who is determined to fight corruption and restore the integrity of state-owned enterprises, said that Eskom has to arrive at a point where it can manage its debt and reduce its dependence on the national budget.

Last October, the Department of Public Enterprises said that Eskom needed about 56 billion rand ($3.8 billion) from the government in the coming fiscal year in order to keep afloat, while Soweto and other South African municipalities owed the company nearly 41 billion rand.

"I believe Eskom needs to become economically viable and stop being a platform that plugs money into state-owned enterprises which are not well managed," Owen Nkomo, founder and chief investment officer of Inkunzi wealth group, told Sputnik.

Eskom's Mantshantsha admitted that the way the company generated electricity was expensive and that to keep it running would likely require around 1 billion rand per week.


One of the issues behind South Africa's electricity production/consumption imbalance is that many people and companies connect to the grid illegally and get away with not paying for it.

"We need to make sure that we continue to fight the scourge of cable theft and those who sell electricity fraudulently which makes illegal connections to the network," Nkomo said, adding that the government has to make sure that "as many South Africans as possible are paying electricity."

Another thing that the government could do is not build a property that is not going to be digitally connected to the electricity grid, the expert said.

"But I think the most important thing is to get Eskom to be run properly. Let the management do what they need to do," Nkomo said, arguing that the company needs a thorough restructuring, even if it requires a loss of jobs for some employees.

"We need to make sure Eskom is a 21st-century company, and we need to make sure that we stop playing into the hands of the unions and have an Eskom that works so that other industries can get enough electricity, and they can grow and employ those people that might have been fired from Eskom," he added.

Secure supplies to other industries, like health care facilities, is especially important now that many people with COVID-19 rely on oxygen-pumping ventilators to survive the infection. Vaccination centers also need secure supplies so that cold-chain vaccines, which require storage in freezing temperatures, do not go bad before administered to people.

"By law hospitals must have back up. Hospitals are protected from load-shedding. They are not fed on the same line. But that does not remove Eskom's obligation from supplying electricity. The public needs to know that these contingencies are essential. Eskom does deserve a tongue lashing so that we may be corrected. We have made commitments to keep the lights on to industries," Mantshantsha told Sputnik.