Energy experts said Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s plans to address South Africa’s energy crisis are vague, unrealistic, and insufficient.
Ramokgopa recently presented an update on the country’s progress regarding the Energy Action Plan. He said several plans are in place to get more electricity onto the grid.
These plans included, among other things, opening new IPP bids, identifying and working on existing power stations, buying more diesel for Eskom’s Open Cycle Gas Turbines, and negotiating with neighbouring countries like Mozambique to supply electricity to South Africa.
Ramokgopa said one of his priorities is improving Eskom’s energy availability factor, which has already increased by 7%.
However, Energy analyst Chris Yelland told eNCA that he found Ramokgopa’s update “very rushed, very vague and, ultimately, very unsatisfying”. He described it as “lots of fast talk, but very thin on detail”.
One facet of Ramokgopa’s plan involved importing power from Mozambique – an immediate 80 MW from a Karpowership harboured at the country and another 1,000 MW in six months.
However, Yelland said the Minister was vague in his answers to questions regarding how this plan will work and did not provide further details. According to Yelland, the Minister’s plan seems “very unlikely” and lacks substance.
Ramokgopa could also not provide details on when the updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will be released.
The IRP looks at the supply and demand of electricity in South Africa in the next ten years. It identifies what new generation capacity must be added to meet increasing demand, taking into account older power plants that will come offline.
According to Yelland, while the plan is not prescriptive, it’s a really important plan. “We need to have done the thinking, and we need to be procuring electricity based on rational up-to-date thinking,” he said.
However, this has not happened. Despite promises from the government that the final IRP would be available by the end of the year, the draft IRP has yet to be made available for public comment.
Ramokgopa also said the government would be giving four power stations, including Kusile, immediate attention to considerably lessen the intensity of load-shedding by December of this year.
Yelland said that bringing out-of-operation units at Kusile back online by the end of the year would be welcomed, but the Minister’s promise was premature.
While fixing Kusile’s units would bring around 3,000 MW back onto the grid, it is highly likely that Eskom will experience more breakdowns throughout the year, which will minimise these efforts.
Despite this, Yelland said he appreciated the Minister’s confidence and his willingness to make a commitment that he can be held accountable for.
Energy expert Hilton Trollip shared Yelland’s view that the Minister’s update was vague. While Ramokgopa is getting a better grasp on what the problem is, Trollip told eNCA that he was disappointed in the lack of action that has been taken.
“There’s been no action in terms of actually improving either power supply to the grid – in fact, the energy availability factor continues to go down – or in decreasing demand on the grid, which are the two ways that you would deal with an emergency situation,” said Trollip.
While the Minister laid out several plans for addressing the crisis, “it just doesn’t show the kind of government capability that is appropriate to deal with the seriousness of this problem”.
Trollip said many of Ramokgopa’s “new” plans are options that have been available or known for some time, which begs the question of what the government has been doing to address the crisis in the past six months.
“What we do now is going to determine whether we’ve still got an electricity crisis next year. However, we are not hearing about how we are doing things now that will help them, and we’re not seeing stuff being done to help the immediate crisis,” he said.
Trollip did, however, express sympathy for Ramokgopa, who has waited three months for clarity on his role, and said the real problem lies at the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
The department has either not conducted bid auctions for new generation capacity, or when it has, it has approved plans without substance, such as the Karpowership.