Energy expert Professor Mark Swilling said the lower load-shedding stages South Africa has experienced over the past few weeks are due to a combination of unique conditions that the country should not expect to last forever.
Swilling told eNCA that the following unique conditions have led to lower load-shedding over the past few weeks.
- During the winter months, there is less demand on the grid because some of the big industries close down for maintenance.
- There have been fewer unplanned breakdowns in Eskom’s energy system.
- Some investments in repairing Eskom’s machines are beginning to pay off.
- There has been higher-than-expected output from wind power, and the continued expansion of the country’s wind and solar infrastructure has contributed.
“We’re seeing a benefit around these unique conditions, but we mustn’t expect them to last forever,” he said.
The only exception is the impact of renewable energy sources, which will continue to have an effect.
This is because the country has around 30GW of renewable capacity in the pipeline, which will start “kicking in” over the next two to three years.
According to Swilling, South Africa only needs 10GW to end load-shedding within the next 24 months.
Swilling’s reasons for the lower load-shedding stages line up with the reasons Eskom recently provided to Daily Investor, which included:
- Reduced electricity demand experienced as of 1 June 2023.
- The generation capacity available has improved significantly over the past 3 weeks enabling more of the country’s demand to be met.
- The winter electricity demand profile is characterised by high morning peaks and extremely high evening peaks but relatively low demand during the day. This has been exacerbated by the rapid increase in rooftop PV that has been installed across the country.
- Both Eskom and the independently owned open-cycle gas turbine power stations have increased diesel deliveries. This has taken enormous effort throughout the supply chain, particularly from suppliers and transporters.
- The warmer-than-usual weather so far this winter has resulted in lower-than-anticipated demand for electricity.
Swilling’s comments come after the Electricity Minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, said it is “no accident” that the country has seen a recent reduction in load-shedding, as South Africa has managed to boost its generation to over 29,900 megawatts, with demand at around 30,000 megawatts
Speaking at a media briefing on Sunday, Ramokgopa said, “Electricity generation is now beginning to keep up with demand. We will resolve load-shedding.”
However, despite the recent lower levels, Swilling said South Africa would go back into stage four and stage six load-shedding in the relatively near future and before the end of winter.
“The biggest threat that we face is that, unless we rapidly solve our energy crisis, we’re not going to get the economic growth rates that we require,” he said.
“That, in turn, will result in the continued levels of unemployment poverty and the worsening plight of the poorest members of our society.”
Credit where credit is due
Despite this improvement being short-lived, Swilling said the Electricity Minister should be complimented for his efforts.
He said the minister has been “pushing all the right buttons” by not over-emphasising what can be achieved, emphasising renewables, referring to a multiplicity of energy sources within the South African power pool, and giving regular press interviews.
“That’s a new fresh style of politics in South Africa – it’s putting the national interest first rather than obfuscating to hide the interest of rent-seekers,” he said.
Some critics have recently claimed that Eskom’s improved performance over the past few weeks is merely a political ploy ahead of the 2024 elections.
Swilling said that, regardless of any political pressure Eskom faces, experts that watch the utility closely have noted a marked decline in breakdowns and an increased benefit from investments in renewables and maintenance.
“There’s a combination of factors here which, on balance, [makes me] think that the nay-sayers in this particular case are wrong,” he said.