Yesterday night it seemed like the good old family meetings called by President Ramaphosa during COVID lockdown. But it had nothing to do with COVID, it had to do with the lack of power available and the consequential loadshedding that cripples the anyway limping economy and that interrupts any activity, by day and night.
Last week we reached stage 6 loadshedding, hours and hours of darkness and no power spoiled production, service delivery, damaged cooled and frozen goods and sent millions of appliances and machines to product heaven early … diagnosis: death by power surge!
The President felt seemingly uncomfortable admitting what has been known all along:
- Since the ANC came to power not a single power station was built to produce power today.
- Medupi and Kusile are as epic as they are expensive failures and we know that without foreign expertise they will never work.
- It was a mistake to send the qualified but unfortunately, foreign engineers and experts home to leave the project to become the playground for nepotism, corruption and relentless self-enrichment by politicians and ESKOM executives alike.
- Without help and a radical cutting of existing red tape we will face the ultimate Black Out.
But what first makes you feel satisfied when listening to Ramaphosa admitting guilt and failure, also grips you seconds later while in utter disbelief listening to the President’s findings. Missed routine maintenance, stolen parts resold to the power stations, sabotage, cable theft, wild strikes … the list is endless and one wonders that we have electricity at times at all.
In any other country, the Minister for Energy would have been axed long ago, but not here. Here Minister of Greed Mantashe, aka Dr Evil, is so firmly glued into his power seat and ultimately together with his family and friends the main beneficiary of corruption and nepotism as mentioned. He controls the Mines and the National Executive Committee within the ANC and thereby – as long as the President is not elected by the people – the only force that makes Presidents but also destroys them (sorry Thabo!).
Ramaphosa read bullet points from the prompter for his address. Known are the shortcomings, rare the solutions that were presented. Nothing is new, neither the Renewable Independent Power Producer Program (REIPPP) that is now revived nor the call for skilled help to assist and fix what should have never been broken.
The hundreds of companies that answered South Africa’s call six years ago to engage in expensive and complicated bidding rounds and had battled and begged ESKOM to sign the agreed Power Purchase Agreements have been treated like Pariahs. Unilateral reduction in power prices payable, undue payment delays by the government and incompetent yet arrogant communication partners in the South African utilities and government departments have led to their exodus and by now, they have almost all closed down their subsidiaries and left South Africa.
ESKOM with R 400bn in debt and still not divided into three independent companies separating generation from transmission and distribution. 60% of the country’s generation capacity is available and the big white elephants, Medupi and Kusile, are battling planning, construction and ultimately design flaws instead of producing the juice that keeps our lights on. The rest of the power stations are at the end of their lifespan, have not been serviced regularly and lack the parts and the skilled operators to stay on.
Ramaphosa is no longer in ANC-ordered denial, he is now proposing a new approach, an approach that shall bring South Africa to the front by producing ample power at an affordable price for everybody. How? The solution is as simple as it is old, renewable energy all the way:
- Reinstatement of the Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme with Round 5 and Round 6;
- Doubling the capacities awarded in each round from 2 600 MW to 5 200 MW;
- Allowing Independent Power Producers to build and operate renewable energy plants without licensing procedures, through notification of NERSA only;
- Allowing municipalities to freely procure power from any IPP; and
- Rewarding those businesses and private households with their own PV Solar Installations to feed excess power back into the grid in exchange for credits calculated on the basis of the upcoming feed-in tariffs.
Ramaphosa closed with the prospect of gas turbines generating power and purchasing power from Botswana as well as generating power through mobile power generators. But that seems a bit far-fetched as we have neither pipelines for LPG gas in place, having Botswana so far purchasing power from us in lack of sufficient own generation capacity and even a thousand mobile units will not make a dent in the overall generation capacity, needless to mention that their interfacing with an ancient transmission network will pose endless headaches.
A silver lining? Sure! But for now, only originating from a string of LEDs powered by a battery!