South African businesses and households are cutting their dependence on Eskom for reliable electricity through solar PV and battery storage.
Farming is a sector where power independence is particularly important, and a solar revolution is afoot here.
Theo de Jager, executive director at Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI) and founder of Son SA, said many farms have facilities which cannot function without reliable electricity.
He said the electricity crisis brought many farmers to their knees and threatened the viability of their businesses.
They discussed the problems with Eskom and the relevant ministers but soon realised that the situation would not improve.
In response, farming and business organisations joined forces to ensure farmers and businesses could function without Eskom power.
De Jager and others realised that solar power was the only solution because diesel generators are too costly to run with extended load-shedding.
They founded Son SA to help farmers and businesses use solar PV and battery backup to become energy independent.
It included partnerships with banks and other financial institutions to make financing available for solar installations.
They also vet service providers to weed out fly-by-night operators to assist farmers in avoiding being fleeced by bad actors.
The results have been encouraging, with many farms and businesses, including mega-farms, going completely off-grid.
He said that just like the South African Post Office, which became irrelevant to most South Africans who no longer require its services, Eskom is also slowly dying.
“It struck me that Eskom is going the same route as the SA Post Office where people are finding alternatives and stop using their service,” he said.
“South Africans are so tired of Eskom’s unreliable service that many have already made a plan which limits their reliance on Eskom.”
He added that those who have not made a plan yet are working to produce their own power and kiss Eskom goodbye.
“It is expensive to invest in a solar PV and battery backup system, but it is even more expensive not to do it and rely on Eskom.”
“We all have a responsibility to become independent of Eskom as there is no concrete plan for fixing the power utility.”
Eskom dying a slow death
De Jager prediction that we will wake up one day and realise that if Eskom fails, it is not that bad, echoes the views of renowned economist Dawie Roodt.
Roodt said Eskom’s generation and distribution divisions are slowly dying, similar to South African Airways and the South African Post Office.
“Only the transmission part will remain, and the rest of Eskom will just slowly die and come to an end,” he said.
Roodt previously explained that Eskom is completely bankrupt. “It has been operationally and financially run into the ground. It does not work anymore,” he said.
Eskom currently owes around R420 billion. The Finance Minister announced that the state will take over between R150 billion and R160 billion of this debt.
The reason for the government taking over Eskom’s debt is because it cannot survive financially.
He explained that around 40,000 people work at Eskom with an average salary of R70,000 per month.
“Last year, Eskom employees received a 7% increase. It is irresponsible. These workers are already overpaid,” he said.
Eskom’s collapse also means it cannot provide enough electricity to keep the lights on, hampering economic growth.
Take responsibility for your own electricity future
As far back as 2019, energy analyst Chris Yelland said South African consumers and businesses must take control of their own energy future as they cannot rely on the government and Eskom.
In January 2020, Yelland accurately warned that things would have to get a lot worse before the bureaucrats realised they had a problem.
He said that the trouble is that the ministers concerned with energy seemed to be living in a different world.
“There is a cognitive dissonance between their world and the reality of a failing Eskom. They still talk about Medupi and Kusile as magnificent plants,” Yelland said at the time.
The reality was that these two mega-projects brought Eskom to its knees, and they are part of the problem, not the solution.
Yelland said the solution to South Africa’s electricity crisis would not come from the government, as it cannot deliver projects that can provide new electricity timeously.
“That kind of electricity capacity has to come from the electricity customers, taking responsibility for their own energy future,” said Yelland.
“South African businesses and households have to take control of their own energy future.”