SA’s rolling blackouts are not a temporary crisis and the precarious power generation situation needs to be treated as an emergency.

That is the view of energy expert Clyde Mallinson in response to Eskom revealing on Wednesday that total breakdowns in its generation fleet added up to 14,967MW, forcing it to implement stage 4 load-shedding until Friday.

The latest bout of rolling blackouts began earlier in October.

Energy analyst Mike Rossouw was more blunt, saying he had doubts about Eskom's chances of recovery and said the country could expect more load-shedding.

Mallinson said if SA had started rolling out renewable energy sources at the end of 2019, when Eskom implemented stage 6 rotational power cuts, it would not be facing the same shortage of power today.

“We prevaricated for too long. We have now been immobilised,” he said.

Mallinson said Covid-19 restrictions had reduced demand for electricity for much of 2020. He said if there had not been a pandemic, the country would have found itself grappling with many more power outages.

“There are solutions and the time for fire drills is over. This is not a fire drill. This is a real fire,” Mallinson said.

He said one of the solutions was to facilitate and allow for the rollout of solar and wind generation as soon as possible.

The economy is affected. It means we will see no growth in the economy and there are no jobs. There is no leadership whatsoever.
Energy analyst Mike Rossouw

Mallinson said Eskom’s coal-fired fleet of ageing power stations was in decline, and that the deterioration was  due in part to irregular maintenance. Eskom needed to plan around retiring its coal fleet as new-generation capacity was ultimately rolled out.

“The only solution is to go on an aggressive build — and it does not have to be done by Eskom, but Eskom must lead it.”

Energy expert Chris Yelland said the power utility had warned the public there would be load-shedding into the future.

Yelland said the latest round of load-shedding was likely to be the result of a number of unplanned outages happening at the same time. 

“We have to take Eskom at its word when it says we can expect load-shedding for the next several years because our plants are getting older and new plants are performing badly, and new generation capacity is not going on-stream fast enough,” said Yelland, who is also an energy adviser for the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

Yelland said in the short term, more maintenance of the generation fleet meant less available generation. “In the next few years, we must come to terms with the fact we will have outages.”

He said solutions would include the private sector installing self-generation capacity, embedded generation and distributed generation to supplement the country's energy needs. He said this meant the public would use less energy from Eskom and, as demand declined, there would be less load-shedding.

Rossouw said SA had passed the tipping point. 

“Eskom has failed to restore their fleet and it is getting worse — the rate at which the plant is breaking down, the rate at which their planning is failing them, the rate at which they do not have spares, they do not have money, and worse than that, both Eskom and the government are failing to sign up independent power producers because of political motives ... and lack of money,” he told radio station Talk Radio 702.

Rossouw said he had no idea how Eskom was going to recover, considering its planning had “collapsed”, the parastatal was suffering from a lack of skills and the breakdown rate was worse than ever.

“The economy is affected. It means we will see no growth in the economy and there are no jobs. There is no leadership whatsoever.”