By Staff Reporter

The load-shedding crisis which has been an albatross around South Africa’s neck for a decade and a half is about to be declared a National State of Disaster.

“It was observed that it would be necessary to have a National State of Disaster because that would enable us to have the instruments that would be necessary to fully address the challenge that our nation faces.  

“Work is already underway within the government to establish whether the legal requirements for the declaration of a National State of Disaster are met and what specific actions we would be empowered to undertake to urgently resolve load shedding within the framework of a National State of Disaster,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The governing ANC’s announcement plan to declare a National State of Disaster may just be another national headache, according to an energy expert.

Chris Yelland, an electrical engineer, working as an energy analyst, consultant and public speaker, told The Telegram that not only is the move too late but lacks important detail that could open it up for all kinds of abuse.

On Tuesday, January 31 following a two-day inaugural lekgotla of its newly elected National Executive Committee (NEC), the ANC through its secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, announced plans to end load shedding. Amongst them, was a grand proposal for the declaration of electricity National State of Disaster which, according to the party, will bring the lights back on by the end of the year.

But both Mbalula nor President Cyril Ramaphosa were not clear on what form this would take, how much it would cost or even where the money would come from. The President said, “the ANC would explore the legal frameworks of what a national state of disaster would entail.”

Mbalula said the party was concerned about where the funding to support a national disaster declaration would be sourced.

“About eight months ago, I suggested a number of things to be done in order to expedite the work that needs to be done in to address the current energy crisis to Eskom management. Amongst them was the declaration of an energy crisis but nothing was done.

“Now the ANC is thinking about it. They don’t know what it is going to cost, or what activities or projects it would entail. To effectively address the current situation you must clearly define what actions are needed and how much all that would cost. It should not be a way of pushing all the activities and expenses that are corrupt. We have seen this during covid,” Yelland cautioned.

He told Business Tech  that “South Africa was on the cusp of an energy emergency, with a shortfall of capacity as high as 10,000MW due to critical failures at Eskom’s power stations and the national government’s failure to get more generation onto the grid.”

Yelland says that the state-owned power utility is currently living “hand to mouth” as it struggles to scrounge up enough diesel and other available power sources to keep the lights on.

South Africa is experiencing high stages of all-day load shedding, with rolling blackouts hitting households, businesses and society at large every day of the new year so far. This is a continuation of the worst-ever load shedding experienced in 2022.

Eskom is currently implementing blackouts alternating between stage 4 and stage 5, after non-stop stage 6 last week.

According to Yelland, critical outages at the Medupi and Kusile power stations have pulled a combined 3,500MW from the grid, most of which will not be available until 2024.

The offloading of Koeberg unit 1 in December 2022 has taken another 1,000MW offline, which will only return in the middle of 2023 – but unit 2 will be taken offline soon after, so the 1,000MW will still be missing from capacity this year.

“When you add this large, combined outage to the country’s existing power generation gap of 4,000 to 6,000MW declared by Eskom more than three years ago — which has still not been addressed — it is clear that South Africa is teetering on the edge of an electricity emergency,” Yelland said.

Given the figures, South Africa is sitting with a generation shortfall of 10,000MW.

Diesel Emergency

Compounding Eskom’s woes is the fact that the group has effectively run out of diesel and it has become a constant struggle to find money to buy more.

While the power utility announced this week that it had secured an additional 50 million litres to address shortages right now, it must be noted that the 50 million barrels secured near the end of 2022 – which was supposed to last until March 2023 – barely lasted long enough to see in the new year.

According to Yelland, the diesel, which powers Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines (OCTG), is only supposed to be used in emergencies to help stabilise the grid. However, Eskom has become reliant on diesel as a primary generator.

For households, the immediate impact is clear – South Africans are sitting for hours in the dark each day, disrupting lives and damaging appliances and generally making life miserable.

In communities, neighbourhoods and cities, the impact is extensive. From increased traffic on the roads and damage to critical infrastructure which is not designed to be switched off and on, to heightened and elevated levels of crime which take place while the power is out.

On an industry level, the damage being done is even greater. Entire industries are being forced to shut down, resulting in massive losses for individual companies and billions of rands’ worth of damage to the economy. Businesses have to incur higher costs to source alternative power, and the outages are now putting food and water security at risk.

On a macroeconomic scale, the damage to South Africa is incalculable, with analysts and economists not braving the task of trying to determine how much economic growth South Africa has lost – directly and indirectly – to load shedding over the last 15 years.

Additional reporting by Business Tech.

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