Eskom’s team ends load shedding on back of coal, diesel and nuclear base-load energy

Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, the minister in the Presidency responsible for electricity, hosting a media briefing to discuss the latest developments regarding the implementation of the Energy Action Plan this week. Photo: GCIS

Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, the minister in the Presidency responsible for electricity, hosting a media briefing to discuss the latest developments regarding the implementation of the Energy Action Plan this week. Photo: GCIS

Published May 22, 2024


Most, if not all, political parties contesting the national general elections on May 29, 2024, are finding themselves at the crossroad of energy crisis solutions. There is a lot of empty talk about how much new renewable energy projects has contributed to ending the surge of load shedding, but this is not true.

Renewable energy technology is in its infancy. Let’s give credit where it is due. We are enjoying almost two months of no load shedding because our coal, diesel and nuclear power plants are the main base-load energy sources that are responsible for keeping the lights on.

Yes, renewables remains our government energy policy priority. Unfortunately, the energy generated by renewable energy independent power producers cannot, at this stage, be transmitted to the national grid unless it is coupled with and supported by gas peakers to balance the pulsating energy frequency. Peaker plants are gas turbines or gas engines that burn natural gas.

Yes, the plants are generating solar and wind electricity but, due to the intermittent nature of the energy generated, the energy cannot be transmitted successfully to the national high voltage grid. What does Eskom do? Buy, curtail and dump the energy generated at the gate as a means to maintain grid stability? It will take years before South Africa can successfully integrate low-voltage with high-voltage power within the grid.

Even the Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, in his recent energy action plan media update on Monday, made utterances alluding to this. He said: “Solar energy remains part of the strategy to combat load shedding.” He then qualified his remark, saying: “Eskom’s performance is not necessarily because of the performance of the renewable energy projects.”

The minister knows for a fact that solar energy has not contributed towards ending load shedding. But, seemingly, he is under pressure from renewables energy lobbyists to cite solar and wind energy as the reason why load shedding has been suspended. The ending of load shedding for the past 55 days is duly credited to Eskom’s coal fleet power plants that are operating and performing optimally.

Furthermore, Ramokgopa said: “If you go to the Energy Action Plan and you look at Outcome 4, it says that we have to introduce incentives to make it possible for us to aggressively roll out rooftop solar solutions by both industry and households.”

I agree with him. Without incentivising rooftop solar installations for domestic households and industry, the solar industry will struggle to gain a significant market share. The incentives are not enough in the face of the cost of living crisis.

South Africans struggle with securing basic food commodities daily and live from hand to mouth. Where will they find the money to invest in green energy-generation solutions? Without proper incentives to drive solar uptake, unfortunately, the adoption of rooftop solar solutions will be severely hampered.

Eskom sells its electricity at a relatively cheaper rate than the huge upfront capital investment outlay in rooftop green energy solutions, making it unaffordable to the average South African.

The 2024 general elections have commenced. Across the world, all South African expatriates living abroad in various countries have gone to the polling stations in their respective countries’ embassies to cast their special votes for the party of their choice. It is estimated that around 217 000 South Africans eligible to vote cast their ballots in London – a big turnout.

Australia, Canberra, also recorded a big South African turnout of voters.

No doubt the electricity crisis will be the number one issue most voters are thinking of during the election.

To remind everyone what caused the self-inflicted crisis:

Load shedding history

South Africa’s energy crisis or load shedding is an ongoing period of widespread national blackouts of electricity supply. It began in the later months of 2007, towards the end of Thabo Mbeki's second term as president, and continues. The government-owned national power utility and primary power generator, Eskom, and various parliamentarians attributed the rolling blackouts to insufficient generation capacity.

Eskom and government officials say the solution requires the construction of additional power stations and generators.

This does not explain the fact that according to Eskom’s figures, its available generation capacity has dropped from more than 37 gigawatts in 1994 to less than 28GW in 2024, in spite of two major power stations – Kusile and Medupi – having been added to the grid during the period, nor why Eskom's financial position has deteriorated –from showing a R2.3 billion net profit in 1994 to having a debt of R423bn in 2023.

Corruption and mismanagement in Eskom have exacerbated the energy crisis; neglect by Eskom, in addition to multiple acts of sabotage and the activity of criminal syndicates within Eskom that have alleged political connections, have contributed to power supply problems, as has corruption within the ruling party.

Many South Africans consider the energy crisis to be just another symptom of long-standing inept governance. In April 2024, South Africa had a full month without rotational power cuts, the first time since January 2022.

Your vote in elections is important

This time around, people are going to vote with their emotions. And electricity will be a key determiner of the election outcome.

Top 10 items South Africans will vote on:

– Power cuts/load shedding

– Jobs/unemployment

– Economy

– Housing

– Corruption

– Crime

– Immigration

– Education

– Poverty

– Inequality

The elections next week are a watershed moment for South Africans. After enduring months and more than 300 days last year of constant power cuts and load shedding, millions of people registered to vote for their first time. Almost 10 million new voters were added to the voters roll.

Did the spiralling and never-ending effects of load shedding cause such a turnout by non-registered and new voters to decide that this year would be their moment when they would take to the polls, vote for the party of their choice and vote to make a difference?

SA energy plan and roadmap to end load shedding

President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled a strong plan of action to reduce load shedding and achieve energy security, in his speech to the nation on July 25, 2022.

Since then, five crucial actions have been implemented under the supervision of the National Energy Crisis Committee:

1. Fix Eskom and improve the availability of supply.

2. Enable and accelerate private investment in generation capacity.

3. Accelerate procurement of new capacity from renewables, gas and battery storage.

4. Unleash businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar.

5. Fundamentally transform the electricity sector to achieve long-term energy security.

The roadmap for government intervention to end load shedding include:

1. Importing 300MW to 1 625MW from neighbouring countries within 2023.

2. Increasing rooftop solar by more than 850MW in 2023.

3. Facilitating 1 597MW of private sector-embedded generation projects in 2023.

4. Ensuring municipal procurement of 1 500MW in 2024.

5. Facilitating 2 125MW of more private embedded generation projects in 2024.

6. Implementing 238MW of Just Energy Transition projects and Battery Energy Storage System Phase 2 in 2024.

7. Procuring 4 000MW of new pumped storage in 2024.

8. Ensuring more than 9 000MW of large-scale private sector investment through market reforms in 2024.

The new board at Eskom saved the day. All intended solutions stipulated in the Energy Action Plan have failed to end load shedding. A small portion of rooftop installation played a role in curbing the pains of experiencing load shedding by isolating households from rolling blackouts and power cuts.

But rooftop solar also comes with its problems. At night time, the solar battery storage system often switches over to the Eskom network to recharge itself, thus causing a twin peaks energy-demand cycle, the normal evening and morning peak and the solar battery recharging evening-peak cycle, once again proving that load shedding is an Eskom plant crisis.

If you fix and return plants into operation, load shedding ends. Thanks to the great team and Eskom staff for fighting to end load shedding. The elections will be South Africa’s turning point.

Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

* The views in this column are independent of “Business Report” and Independent Media.