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Government tackles energy crisis

Government tackles energy crisis

By Michael Currin

Over the past months or so, South Africa has been experiencing intermittent load-shedding, which inconveniences households and businesses, and has an adverse impact on the economy of our country.

Government understands and wholly sympathises with households and businesses affected almost daily by power outages.

We acknowledge that among other debilitating disadvantages, load-shedding retards economic growth and impedes socio-economic development.

Amid the intolerable blackouts, government is doing everything possible in its endeavour to find a lasting solution to the electricity crisis.

To capacitate the power utility Eskom to deal effectively and efficiently with load-shedding, and ensure energy security in the country, Cabinet approved the appointment of new board members with the required broad experience, expertise and skills.

They are expected to provide stability and strategic direction to the entity, and reposition it into a key player in the energy sector.

As part of the broad interventions to curb load-shedding, Eskom recently launched three programmes to procure much-needed power for the national grid.

These are expected to supply at least 1 000 megawats (MW) that would significantly contribute to ending load-shedding in the longer-term.

Eskom is already importing about 200 MW electricity from some of our neighbouring countries through the Southern African Power Pool, to augment its generation capacity when the grid is constrained. In addition to implementing far-reaching measures to improve the performance of its power plants, critical maintenance work is also being undertaken to improve their reliability.

While these interventions fervently seek to stabilise the national grid, we should remember that they are not a quick-fix solution to the electricity shortfall.

Hence it is important for all users of electricity to exercise patience and understandsing because the eventual end to load-shedding will not happen overnight. Our longer-term energy security is being addressed in a number of ways.

South Africa is on the threshold of making major headway in preparing the groundwork for our transition to clean energy sources.

We are on track to have over 6 725 MW of renewable energy from various sources such as onshore wind, photovoltaic, concentrated solar power, landfill gas, biomass, small hydro and biogas.

The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) is key to a sustainable energy future in South Africa. The programme is part of the energy mix as outlined in the National Development Plan: Vision 2030 and the Integrated Resource Plan, the latter which envisions that about 42% of the electricity generated in the country should come from renewable resources.

Since our climate conditions are excellent for solar power, a number of projects are underway, including the 100 MW Redstone Concentrated Solar Power Tower project in the Northern Cape. President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the site on 20 October 2022 to assess progress on the project that is anticipated to start operating in early 2024.

Once operational, it is expected to power an average of 100 000 households per year. One of the positive spin-offs of the solar project is that it will eliminate more than 480 tons of carbon dioxide each year as it emits zero harmful emissions, has zero liquid effluent discharge and also uses very little water.

By mid-October 2022, the Redstone Concentrated Solar Power Tower project had created a total of 972 jobs, with an additional 1 500 jobs expected in the near future. About 100 permanent jobs will also be created during the operation and maintenance phase while 37% of business will be procured locally during construction.

This project is part of our commitment to overcome load-shedding through investments in renewable energy. South Africa, like the rest of the globe, is moving towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources. Our investment in renewable energy forms part of our measured and just transition that will allow us to move to a more climate-friendly economy while protecting livelihoods and economic sectors.

These new sectors will not only power our future energy generation but will also lead to the development of new sectors such as electric vehicles and green hydrogen.

As part of our vision to pursue a greener and more sustainable energy supply that will fundamentally change the country’s energy future, we are on track to procure an additional 2 600 MW of new generation capacity from wind and solar photovoltaic projects from Bid Window 5 of the REIPPPP. An additional 5 200 MW is planned to be added to the grid under Bid Window 6. Each new project moves us closer to a green-energy future and ultimately an energy-secure future.

In the meantime, while we maintain what is essentially an ageing energy generation infrastructure, even the smallest effort by each one of us to reduce our electricity usage will help channel the available energy to the sectors that need it most for socio-economic development. During the Coronavirus pandemic, we all made remarkable efforts to save lives and livelihoods. Saving energy now can similarly save lives and livehoods by helping businesses to operate uninterrupted.

By working together, we can conserve electricity by, among others, switching off non-essential lights and appliances, and using energy-efficient lighting. It is also our duty as active citizens to report illegal connections to the relevant authorities and also to pay our electricity bills regularly. Such collective efforts will go a long way to reducing the load on the national grid and thus minimise load-shedding.

Michael Currin is the deputy director-general at GCIS.

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