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Global power grids face biggest test in decades

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With load shedding in South Africa having escalated to a severe Stage 6 over the past weeks, power grids from countries across the globe are also facing their biggest test due to increasing power demands.

File picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

WITH load shedding in South Africa having escalated to a severe Stage 6 over the past weeks, power grids from countries across the globe are also facing their biggest test due to increasing power demands.

Agri SA director Christo van der Rheede said the power crisis has left small-scale farmers the most vulnerable, as pumping stations, irrigation and other systems all depend on power supply.

Added to that, the blackouts have also caused waste as well as financial losses due to the impact on food storage.

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Last week, Eskom said the reason for Stage 6 load shedding was routine planned maintenance while at the same time employees were absent in protest over stalled wage negotiations.

Further abroad, electricity generation is strangling some of the world’s largest economies as the sweltering heat boosts the power demand.

According to Bloomberg news agency, war, drought, climate change as well as production shortages and the backlash to the Covid-19 pandemic have played a crucial role in negatively affecting the energy markets globally.

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The northern hemisphere, which usually peaks for electricity during the summer, sees a power surge in homes and businesses as people crank up their air conditioners.

And, the shortage of energy supplies and power cuts will put billions of lives at risk across South Asia and the US when fans and air conditioners are unable to bring people relief from the heatwaves and soaring temperatures.

“War and sanctions are disrupting supply and demand, and that’s coupled with extreme weather and an economic rebound from Covid-19 boosting power demand,” said BloombergNEF analyst Shantanu Jaiswal.

“The confluence of so many factors is quite unique. I can’t recall the last time they all happened together,” he said.

Japan is already feeling the power crunch due to the summer heat as the Japanese government urges people to conserve electricity during power-intensive hours.

“We would like to ask people to save electricity in a way that does not cause great inconvenience to them in the evenings when the power reserve ratio is low,” said Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki.

Millions of homes in Taiwan have also been hit with massive power outages, while “The Washington Post” reported that in states such as California and Texas the power grids are under stress like never before.

“We’ve been issuing warnings about the grid for a number of years,” said chief executive of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Mark Denzler.

“But the swiftness with which this has happened has caught people by surprise. They didn’t think we would be having these issues for a couple of years,” he said.

In Texas, six of its power plants had failed earlier as the summer heat arrived and offered a sign of what was to come.

Furthermore, more than one billion people were put at risk across Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar after Asia’s heatwave caused hours of blackouts daily.

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Meanwhile, the global climate change crisis means extreme weather conditions will persist and heatwaves will become more common, which will continue to put pressure on power grids and electricity supplies.

Added to that, a lack of investment in fossil fuels, which are the major cause of the climate crisis, and the global switch to renewable power add further pressure on the energy crisis.

“Indeed, the report (by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) calls for radical change to renewables and an immediate end to all new fossil fuel mining,” said António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN.

“Fossil fuels are the cause of the climate crisis. Renewable energy is the answer – to limit climate disruption and boost energy security. Had we invested earlier and massively in renewable energy, we would not find ourselves once again at the mercy of unstable fossil fuel markets,” he said.

Guterres added that the battle for a rapid and just energy transition is not being fought on a level field as some governments still hand out billions in subsidies for coal, oil and gas.

“There is a word for favouring short-term relief over long-term well-being. Addiction. We are still addicted to fossil fuels,” he said.

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