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How to end load shedding and reduce toxic pollution

To overcome South Africa’s load shedding problems, the country needs an additional 6000 MW of power generation, and it needs it now.

Speaking to the TV news channel eNCA recently, energy expert Chris Yelland said that South Africa needs an additional 6000 MW of low-cost, environmentally friendly, quick-to-build electricity generation as soon as possible.

His comments come in response to Eskom’s sudden jump in the levels of load shedding from Stage 2 to Stage 4 which the power utility introduced when ten of its generating units, across seven power stations, failed on Tuesday 2 September 2020.

Stage 4 removes 4000 MW load from the electrical network and equates to about 10% of Eskom’s total generating capacity. Although the demand is around 30 000 MW, which should leave Eskom with about 10 000 MW reserve margin, its power stations are so unreliable that it must resort to what the power utility likes to refer to “load reduction”. But, as Shakespeare famously said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, so whether we call it load reduction or load shedding, the result is the same: the deliberate interruption of electrical supply to all sectors of the economy – and this at a time when the country can least afford any disruption in economic activity.

Eskom has in the past blamed lack of adequate maintenance for the utility’s low electricity availability factor, which results in the episodes of load shedding South Africans endure frequently. However, Yelland maintains that while doing the needed maintenance is essential, it alone will not solve the country’s electricity shortage problems. The best maintenance can do, Yelland says, to stabilise Eskom’s electricity availability factor at its current exceptionally low level.

Rather, he says, South Africa urgently needs new, additional generating capacity. He says the Department of Public Enterprises – which is responsible for the state-owned company Eskom, and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy need to respond quickly and decisively to provide this additional generation.

Unless the government takes courageous and bold steps to bring on 6000 MW of new generating capacity, Yelland says, South Africans can anticipate ever-increasing levels and frequency of load shedding.

The ideal technologies for South Africa are wind and solar PV with battery storage to ensure reliable supply of electricity. These can be built at scale and at a pace which no other generating technology can match. New nuclear plants and so-called “clean” coal fired power stations cannot be built in under ten years and will not meet the urgent need South Africa faces now.

What is needed is beyond Eskom’s capability. It cannot finance such new projects, and it cannot start new projects of this type. It is therefore up to government to change legislation and introduce policy initiatives to enable the private sector to meet the country’s electricity needs.

The current method of central command and control is too clumsy, slow and bureaucratic, he says. It is not customer- nor market-focused and cannot meet the country’s future energy needs. This was demonstrated by the Department’s inability to update the Integrated Resource Plan of 2010 (IRP2020), which was supposed to be update every two years, in less than eight years.

The country needs to move away from a centralised command and control arrangement to a nimbler and market-focused procurement model which will empower the private sector to work with government to provide all South Africans with affordable, reliable electricThe Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) published a report recently which details what needs to be done: Over the next six to eighteen months, electricity demand can only be met by self-generation from industry, mines and agriculture using renewable energy sources supported by battery storage. At the same time, the government must expand the Independent Procurement Plan (IPP) so that the private sector can help to meet the country’s electricity needs.

Only in this way can the government hope to eliminate load shedding, keep the cost of electricity at affordable levels for every resident and reduce the deadly toxic emissions which our current coal-fired power stations spew into the atmosphere day in and day out, even during load shedding.

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