Why renewable energy won’t save Eskom any time soon

It’s going to be a dark December as Eskom has plunged South Africa into high levels of loadshedding without end. That means that upwards of six hours of the day will be without electricity, no matter where you call home.

This year has seen the most frequent power outages in the history of the Republic. From January to June 2022, South Africans had to deal with 876 hours of loadshedding. From July to September, this figure leapt to 1 073 hours.

As of 18th December, this figure was at 2 162 hours of loadshedding, or 90 days without power, according to loadshedding tracking app EskomSePush.

South Africa’s electricity nightmare

The woes affecting South Africa’s energy production are mythic in their scope. It is a full-scale real-time collapse brought about by decades of mismanagement, corruption, politically-motivated sabotage, crime, lack of skills, lack of understanding and a dire absence of consequence and earnestness on behalf of the government and staff.

Every festering wound still holding South Africa back can be found upon the putrid cadaver of what was once a world-class power utility.

Even as the holiday season brings reduced electricity demand, Eskom’s energy availability continues to decline. It is safe to expect more high-level power cuts into the new year.

Especially with the energy utility taking Koeberg Unit 1 offline for maintenance. The unit contributes nearly 1 000MW to the country’s grid, and having it down immediately adds one level of loadshedding.

Eskom says Koeberg 1 will be offline for six months, after which Koeberg Unit 2 will be taken offline for its own maintenance. Probably for another six months.

If Eskom’s statements are to be believed then having each unit offline for maintenance will already have the country at loadshedding Stage 1 for all of 2023. Aside from any other loadshedding levels added by breakdowns across Eskom’s grid.

Koeberg is Africa’s only nuclear power station, and it is Eskom’s most well-run generating body.

Loadshedding will not only persist into the new year, but it will ostensibly worsen, and Eskom’s timeline for when it will get better is virtually non-existent.

In October, recently resigned Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter outlined that loadshedding would begin reducing after 6 000MW of energy are added to the grid. He said at that time that the utility was desperately searching for any and all methods to do this. Including buying the excess power from Zambia and Botswana.

He said that South Africans would begin reaping the rewards of this in 18 to 24 months. Apart from this, Eskom, and the country’s government, has no real stone-solid plan for when loadshedding will cease and the power crisis will be a thing of the past.

Eskom’s renewable energy plan

Renewable energy is another highly publicised plan brought forth from government to begin addressing loadshedding. The Just Energy Transition will see South Africa steadily wean itself off of carbon-heavy energy sources and begin using renewable sources. It will cost the country R1.5 trillion to fulfil.

This plan is one being urged for by the global north, despite African producing much less carbon emissions than western developed countries like France, Germany and the UK. It is a plan that is also being funded by these countries.

In November, the UK pledged billions of dollars in grant funding and technical assistance to South Africa as part of the Just Energy Transition project. This assistance will see South Africa looking into new energy technologies like Green Hydrogen and Green Ammonia. The latter specifically through private UK companies like Globeleq.

Moving into green, renewable energy was part of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s many-phase plan to end loadshedding. One he outlined during a state of the nation address in July. The government has seemingly made moves into parts of the plan, like purchasing power from other African nations, working towards renewable energy and even increasing the amount of private energy that can be added to the grid.

Why is loadshedding getting worse?

The short answer is that the South African government moved too little and too late. Most of the initiatives started by the government only came about this year, as loadshedding began earnestly crippling the economy.

Initiatives into renewables will only be generating power in the next few years. For example, South Africa’s Redstone Concentrated Solar plant will only be complete by 2024. But then, it is only expected to add 100MW of energy to the grid.

A far cry from the over 16 000MW the country is without when Eskom announces Stage 6 loadshedding.

Other costly renewable energy initiatives like the repurposing of the Komati power station, amounting to nearly half a billion Rand, will only see, at most, 370MW of electricity added through solar, wind and storage battery energy. This is part of a wider plan to repurpose Eskom’s oldest power stations into renewable energy generators by 2030.

South Africa will need 160 more Redstone Solar plants to end loadshedding, or 42 more repurposed Komati stations. And billions upon billions of Rands.

At the rate the country is going to end loadshedding, we will be lucky to be rid of rotating power cuts within the next two decades.


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