Over the past two weeks, severe load shedding has disrupted our economy and caused extreme hardship for all South Africans.
Stage-6 load shedding was triggered by the loss of over 18GW of generation capacity due to unit breakdowns and an unprotected strike by Eskom workers.
After more than a decade of electricity shortages, South Africans are right to feel frustrated and angry. At times like this, it can feel like there is no end in sight.
Yet, while load shedding appears to worsen, the reality is that we have already taken several important actions to address the shortfall in electricity supply.
Our immediate priority is to stabilise the electricity system. As the system recovers and generation capacity is restored, Eskom will be able to reduce load shedding to lower stages.
The agreement reached between Eskom and labour unions will enable critical repairs and return additional units to operation. The transmission line from Cahora Bassa in Mozambique has been restored, adding 600MW to the grid, and Medupi unit 6 returned to service on Saturday, adding another 720MW. Additional units will come back online during the coming week, further easing the current shortfall.
At the same time, law enforcement agencies are working hard to tackle sabotage, theft and fraud at Eskom to address the threat that these criminal actions pose to the electricity system.
In the end, the bottom line is that we need to add more capacity to the grid. This will create space for Eskom to undertake critical maintenance and increase the reliability of its fleet. It will also create a buffer so that even if several units experience breakdowns at once, other sources can be used.
One of the first steps I took in 2018 was to revive the renewable energy procurement programme. In addition to the procurement of new generation capacity through this programme, the increase of the licensing threshold for new generation projects to 100MW means that private investors do not require a licence to build generation facilities up to this size. This simple reform has unlocked a massive potential pipeline of investment.
Eskom has made land available next to existing power stations for private investment in renewable energy projects. Design modifications have been completed to improve the performance of Medupi units 1, 2 and 3 and are under way in units 5 and 6.
While these actions are significant and will bear fruit over the coming months, they are clearly not enough to address the crisis that we face. What the past two weeks have demonstrated is that we need to do more and do so with the utmost urgency.
There is no reason why a country like ours – with the skills, capabilities and resources we have at our disposal – should have to endure a shortage of electricity.
Over the past two weeks, we have been working with the relevant ministers and senior officials on a range of additional measures to accelerate all efforts to increase our electricity supply. The message is clear: this is no time for business as usual. We need to act boldly to make load shedding a thing of the past.
While the measures we have already taken will secure the supply of reliable and affordable electricity into the future, we have been looking at what additional measures we can take now to bring that goal closer.
We will soon be completing the detailed work and consultations needed to finalise these further measures. We will then, in the coming days, be able to announce a comprehensive set of actions to achieve much faster progress in tackling load shedding.
There are no easy solutions to our electricity crisis. But we are committed and determined to explore every avenue and use every opportunity to ensure that we generate enough electricity to meet the country’s needs.
- Cyril Ramaphosa is president of South Africa