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We will find a way to keep the lights on – President Ramaphosa

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President Cyril Ramaphosa says solving the country’s energy challenges and ensuring that power utility Eskom produces enough electricity to meet the demand is fundamental for the country’s economic recovery.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Jiarus Mmutle

Durban – President Cyril Ramaphosa says solving the country’s energy challenges and ensuring that power utility Eskom produces enough electricity to meet the demand is fundamental for the country’s economic recovery.

In his weekly newsletter sent out on Monday, Ramaphosa said while Eskom was working to improve its operational performance and new generation capacity was being built, consumers needed to pay for the electricity they use, whether as individuals, households, businesses, industries or municipalities

The country had to contend with the latest bout of load shedding from March 10 as Eskom said its generation capacity had been severely constrained. It suspended the rotational power cuts on March 19 saying the generation units had been returned to service.

Ramaphosa acknowledged that electricity shortages had been a problem for more than a decade, with economic activity being severely interrupted every time there was a power cut, affecting smaller businesses and large industries alike.

“Over the years, it has contributed to slow economic growth and weak investor confidence. That is why we are making every effort to bring new power generation capacity online in the shortest possible time,” he said.

Ramaphosa cited last week’s announcement by the Minister of Mineral, Resources and Energy (MRE), Gwede Mantashe of the companies that had successfully bid to supply 2000 megawatts of emergency power to address the capacity gap as a major step forward.

The president said power would be produced from solar, wind, liquefied natural gas and battery storage sources.

“These projects will involve an investment of around R45 billion by the private sector. Around half of all the materials used in the construction will be locally sourced. The projects should be providing power to the nation by August next year,” he added.

Ramaphosa said the government also released a request for proposals for the procurement of a further 2600MW of renewable energy, in the country’s fifth “bid window” in their programme to buy renewable energy from independent power producers.

He said another part of government’s plan to deal with the electricity supply gap was to make it easier for industry to generate electricity for its own use.

“This embedded generation will reduce the demand on Eskom’s power stations and will increase the country’s overall generation capacity through private investment.”

He added that next year, the government planned to release four more requests for proposals for new power generation projects, in renewable energy, gas, coal and battery storage with expectations they would provide over 7000MW of electricity.

“These new sources of electricity are vital to ensure a reliable supply of energy into the future,” Ramaphosa said.

Turning to Eskom itself, Ramaphosa said the power utility had 15 coal-fired power stations and one nuclear-powered power station. In addition there are nine smaller stations run on a combination of diesel, pumped storage and hydroelectricity.

Ramaphosa said most of the coal power stations were more than 40 years old and prone to breakdowns.

“In addition, much of the necessary maintenance on these plants was neglected for many years. Eskom estimates that breakdowns consume as much as a fifth of our electricity capacity.

“That is why, as we build this new generation capacity, Eskom is working to ensure that it undertakes the planned maintenance of its plants. While this may mean load shedding in the immediate term, better maintenance will lead to improved plant performance in the medium term and to greater stability in supply.”

Energy expert, Ted Blom said Ramaphosa and Mantashe’s efforts to curtail the country’s electricity woes would not comfort suffering businesses and industry.

“All that Gwede and the president are saying won’t happen before December this year, and will be too late for business recovery from the effects of load shedding,” he said.

Blom said Eskom had already projected about 70 load shedding days in its “State of the System” seasonal plan which he estimated to be about 20% of the year, for the upcoming winter and 2022 summer months.

Blom said government efforts were “a joke”, especially with the urgency of the situation and the need for business recovery during the pandemic.

“I predict and fear the country will go into higher levels (stages) of load shedding before these government efforts materialise.

“Eskom cannot even meet Covid-19 restricted economy demands and this will once again affect jobs and businesses. Every industry depends on power whether it’s a bakery making bread, home businesses, restaurants, steel or mining industry. Who is going to pay people who are not producing? It’s not sustainable and the government needs to do more than talk, no, it’s time for action.”

The Mercury