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Act NOW to stop loadshedding

by Christopher Motabogi
South Africa’s power crisis, exacerbated by frequent power cuts, came under the spotlight as the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Business School invited experts to mark the new electricity minister’s 100 days in office.

President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Kgosientsho “Sputla” Ramokgopa to the new post to focus on loadshedding. The president also declared a state of disaster to deal decisively with the electricity crisis; a decision he would later reverse in the face of legal challenges from various quarters.

Minister Ramokgopa kicked off with criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country visiting ailing power stations to get a first-hand account of the crisis facing the country, and to assist him in the implementation of the National Electricity Crisis Plan announced by president Ramaphosa in July last year.

However, experts at the NWU’s recent Pitso event highlighted key factors impeding Eskom from addressing the deepening crisis. The event called attention to political infighting among key politicians Gwede Mantashe, Pravin Gordhan and Ramokgopa, ideological differences, and a perceived lack of urgency to address loadshedding.

Thina Nondada from Waymaker Trade Solutions shared intimate knowledge of the impact of the power crisis in the export market. He says it takes roughly 92 hours to export from South Africa at its ports, while more efficient countries do it in only 12,7 hours.

“This is negatively impacting the whole agricultural sector’s value chain with severe consequences for the country’s economy,” he added.

Energy expert Chris Yelland said the current efforts to address loadshedding can be seen as being “long on talk, but short on action”.

“Government should stop micro-managing the electricity crisis. What they should be doing is putting out economic signals and incentives that customers of electricity can respond to. The more customers install rooftop solar and battery systems, the less loadshedding for the whole country,” advised Chris.

Jan Oberholzer, former Eskom chief operations officer and now its consultant, said he believes there is a real understanding from all three ministers in the electricity sector that additional capacity is critical now, and also in the medium and long term.

“What is lacking is an integrated resource plan – the current one is outdated. This needs to be an agile plan that looks ahead, into the future, and needs to be updated,” he said.

Meanwhile, Khaya Sithole, a chartered accountant and columnist, believes that the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) has a crucial role to play in the energy crisis – an observation supported by Jan.

Khaya said since Eskom is a monopoly, it has to be regulated by other state agencies, but not much has been done by NERSA to deal with issues of tariffs for Eskom and energy caps to businesses with capacity.

“The regulation aspect of it has not kept up to speed with the issues that South Africa needs to resolve, and unfortunately even today, it doesn’t look like NERSA is as agile or as alert to the issues facing the country as it need to be. Unfortunately for Eskom, they are at the epicentre of the conversation, but it is up to them to fix,” said Khaya.

Recent media reports have warned South Africans to brace for possible stage 10 loadshedding during the coming winter months. Now all eyes are on minister Ramokgopa.
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