South African power blackouts to expand

South African power blackouts to expand
A South African farm. YouTube video

South Africans are already routinely going without power for many hours a day. Soon, things will get worse.

The struggling state power company Eskom is predicting a “very difficult winter” starting this June, warning that electricity outages could reach an unprecedented level during the current South African energy crisis, the country’s worst-ever.

South Africa used to be the most advanced country on the African continent, a place with world-class roads and railroads. It was the place that discovered how to do heart transplants, and came up with other inventions such as advanced cataract surgery, CT scans, and computerized ticketing systems. Foreign observers hoped things would improve after the end of white rule over the predominantly black country in 1990. But instead, the country got worse under its new rulers, the left-wing African National Congress. South Africa has since had one of the world’s highest crime rates, for a quarter century under the ANC’s rule. Seemingly everything is falling apart. South Africa has the world’s highest rape rate, the third-highest murder rate in the world, the world’s highest robbery rate, and the world’s highest burglary rate.

Many homes and companies in South Africa are already facing scheduled electricity outages – or load shedding – of more than 10 hours a day, largely due to breakdowns in Eskom’s ailing fleet of power plants. Winter demand for power is expected to surge to about 33,000 megawatts but Eskom is not able to generate more than 26,000 megawatts.

Eskom has not yet gone beyond “Stage 6” power cuts, which require 6,000 megawatts to be shed from the national grid. This winter it may move to “Stage 8”, said Eskom executive Segomoco Scheppers. That would require up to 8,000 megawatts to be shed, resulting in 16 hours of outages every 32 hours.

“Stage 8” is just one scenario that Eskom is preparing for if its strategies fail, he said, explaining that the power cuts are necessary in order to avoid a national grid collapse.

“The alternative, which is a blackout, is really a nightmare scenario because it is an uncontrolled situation where the whole country loses supply,” said Scheppers. He claimed the likelihood of this is very low, but observers think the chance is very real.

South Africa’s power crisis has gotten worse over the past year, damaging industrial production and leaving cities dark and more prone to violent crime.

Analysts note that years of underinvestment in maintenance of ageing coal plants has reduced Eskom’s capacity to deliver consistent power supply to millions of homes and businesses. Some of the newer power plants have also broken down due to overburdening. Corruption and sabotage have also fueled the crisis, while Eskom has also had to deal with strikes and sickouts by its workforce. The crippling power cuts have damaged South Africa’s economy, reducing its size by at least 5 per cent in 2022.

Separately, a government official announced today that South Africa will auction 10 new blocks for shale gas exploration in the arid western Karoo region.

South Africa’s first competitive auction for oil and gas resources, expected in 2024 or 2025, is expected to occur as the nation tries to come up with alternative energy sources to assuage the power crisis. “We are potentially looking at a minimum of about 10 shale gas blocks in the Karoo that will be released through competitive bidding,” said government official Bongani Sayidini.

South African officials estimate that the Karoo Basin holds about 209 trillion cubic feet of shale gas resources, although a 2017 study by geologists at the University of Johannesburg said only 13 trillion cubic feet of gas are there. Estimates range from 13 to 390 trillion cubic feet.

Even 5 trillion cubic feet would be enough for support a 1,000 megawatt (MW) to 2,000 MW gas-fired power plant that could supply electricity for up to 30 years, the South African Academy of Science says.

The cost per unit of energy produced would be cheaper than for wind and solar energies, at least initially, but for how long, is not clear — solar and wind energy are getting somewhat cheaper year by year, but still remain more expensive than coal and gas at the current time.

Fracking in the Karoo basin, a vast area covering more than half of South Africa’s land surface, has been blocked for a decade because of resistance from environmental activists.

Green energy policies, along with a corrupt and incompetent government, have helped spawn South Africa’s current power crisis.

As Jazz Shaw notes,

South Africa has always relied primarily on coal-fired power plants because the country sits on rich deposits of coal. But their leaders have followed the same trends we’re seeing in other developed nations around the world, growing “squeamish” about using coal and looking to set up more solar and wind energy farms. Maintenance of some of the coal plants has been neglected because they anticipated the eventual closure of those facilities. Some of them have gone offline.

Meanwhile, demand for electricity has only increased. When people attempt to draw more electricity off the grid than it’s capable of producing, bad things happen. Hence the planned, rolling blackouts by Eskom. They can’t simply wave a magic wand and make more energy appear.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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