First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Energy Minister Mantashe has the power to end load shed...

DM168

POWER CRISIS

Energy Minister Mantashe has the power to end load shedding with new generation capacity – experts

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Gallo Images / Business Day / Freddy Mavunda)

Darkness with patches of light is what South Africa literally looks like at the moment. Experts spell out what needs to be done to power up our country. And all roads lead to Gwede Mantashe, the minister of mineral resources and energy.

They have overseen the entirety of the power crisis from the early warnings at the turn of the century all the way to Stage 6 in 2022. And despite this, executive authorities in the ANC-led government are either dead set on making the same mistake or unable to learn from the past.

An expanding body of people and organisations, across the spectrum from civil society to academia, from Eskom itself to energy experts, have all come out and said that the quickest solution to end SA’s power crisis would be to rapidly add additional generation capacity. Even then, it would be years before the crisis was fully resolved.

Section 34 of the Electricity Regulation Act provides for the minister of mineral resources and energy, Gwede Mantashe, to issue determinations for new electricity-generating capacity to be built. The power to end load shedding is literally in Mantashe’s hands and the faster he acts, the sooner the problem can be solved.

But if you ask Mantashe, as journalists from News24 did after a Cabinet meeting at the end of June, he might say that “it’s unfair to place blame on myself or the government. What should I do with Eskom as mineral resources and energy minister? The power utility is a matter [that falls] under public enterprises.”

Richard Mantu, media liaison officer at the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE), explained to DM168 that the DPE was taking the lead in bringing forward structural reforms at Eskom but that it could not procure power.

Mantashe went on to explain that even the rapid addition of more capacity wouldn’t resolve the issue instantly, saying to the journalists that “instant energy will only come from the units of Eskom working efficiently”.

What Mantashe fails to acknowledge is that working efficiently is an anathema to an Eskom that was the site of major corruption and incapacitation; an Eskom that depends on a coal-powered fleet of power plants with an average age of 41 years that have been running at high utilisation factors (in the red zone) with minimal reliability maintenance and upgrades.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha explained that, for the utility’s units to work “efficiently”, they needed “additional capacity, which will both provide direct capacity to reduce load shedding but also provide Eskom with the capacity or ‘space’ in which to perform the deep, reliability maintenance that is essential for improving the reliability and predictability of the generation fleet”.

Mantashe would do well to remember that on 30 October 2020 he signed a performance agreement with President Cyril Ramaphosa that confirms it is his responsibility to “create maintenance space for Eskom by augmenting supply with 2,000MW of emergency power, additional power from [independent power producers (IPPs)] and generation for own use in line with [the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)] 2019. Implement the IRP 2019.”

But Mantashe and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) are not solely responsible for this sorry state of affairs. Asked about the composition of Eskom’s board and the lack of engineering and energy sector experience, Mantu threw cold water on any suggestion that this played a significant role in the company’s current woes.

Under DPE Minister Pravin Gordhan’s stewardship, Eskom has sought to dismantle its outdated vertically integrated monopoly structure and replace it with three separate companies, each with its own liabilities and assets under the Eskom umbrella, in the hope of enabling greater access to finance and greater independence. Despite this, Gordhan has not appointed a board of directors to the newly formed transmission company under Eskom’s umbrella despite the utility putting forth a list of nominees in February.

Eskom

The Treasury has also belatedly acceded to the needs of Eskom. Shortly after joining Eskom as CEO, André de Ruyter proposed that original equipment manufacturers be brought in on maintenance contracts. The Treasury eventually acceded to this request in April but the time differential can be counted in hours of load shedding not prevented. Moreover, Eskom is unable to support its own capacity needs because of its gargantuan debt levels.

It is partly this ongoing finger-pointing and quibbling about responsibilities and culpabilities that has enabled South Africa’s energy crisis to intensify. It wouldn’t be the first time members of the executive branch have not heeded Eskom’s calls. Successive ANC-led governments have failed to prevent, arrest and end load shedding.

“When Eskom said to the government, ‘We think we must invest more in terms of electricity generation’, we said: ‘No, all you will be doing is to build excess capacity.’ We said: ‘Not now, later.’ We were wrong. Eskom was right.”

So said former president Thabo Mbeki, apologising to the nation in 2008 after South Africans had their first taste of what was to become the ongoing, accursed national bane that is load shedding. The problem, however, was accurately predicted years in advance.

Dating as far back as at least 1999, South Africa’s net reserve margin – the difference between capacity and demand for electricity – had been steadily declining as a result of increasing demand and a lack of additional capacity being commissioned.

A year before, in 1998, an Energy White Paper had predicted that, “for an assumed demand growth of 4.2%, Eskom’s present generation capacity surplus will be fully utilised by about 2007”. Eskom, accordingly, approached the government for increased capital expenditure for generation. That it was denied this is part of the reason the country is in the situation it is in today.

“The two primary reasons for load shedding are the unreliability and unpredictability of Eskom’s generation fleet … and a lack of generation capacity in the country,” said Mantshantsha. Eskom had an energy shortfall of 4,000MW to 6,000MW of new generation to the national grid; an amount that would significantly reduce load shedding, Mantshantsha said. This does not tell the whole story, however.

The DPE’s Mantu pointed to Gordhan’s recent media briefing, saying that this long-festering issue was exacerbated over the past two weeks by unlawful strikes by Eskom workers that saw yet more generation capacity rendered unavailable, leading to Stage 6 load shedding.

Energy shortfall

The country’s energy shortfall, according to Chris Yelland, energy analyst and MD of EE Business Intelligence, also stems from Medupi and Kusile power stations that were ordered in 2008 to meet the said depleting capacity. The power plants were meant to be completed in 2015 and deliver 9,600MW.

“It’s now seven years later and Medupi has essentially been completed but it’s performing very poorly and one of its units is not performing at all because it blew up … that unit is running on about half of what it should.

“Kusile, three units are in commercial service … and performing very poorly. So those units, even though it’s eight years later, are only producing at a quarter of what they should be,” he said.

However, the shortfalls of the plants and in capacity more generally are not the sole contributor to the energy crisis. Eskom’s Mantshantsha said “corruption has played a big role in the position in which Eskom finds itself today. Eskom has laid numerous criminal charges with the South African Police Service, disciplined and dismissed from its workforce employees found guilty of irregularities, and in some instances commenced legal proceedings to recover from third parties funds irregularly paid out.”

Yelland explained that in a tenure marred by corruption engrossed in dodgy dealings, former Eskom CEOs Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko had stopped the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) for five years. The programme aims to integrate renewable energy into the grid, garnering investment from the private sector to develop additional capacity. Thus far, 6,000MW of generation capacity has been allocated through its bidding windows, which has not yet been integrated into the Eskom grid. He added that the five-year period could have generated an additional 5,000MW of renewable energy and prevented 95% of load shedding last year alone.

National Planning Commission

The National Planning Commission (NPC), chaired by Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, on 6 July proposed a number of measures to end the crisis that has left the nation reeling.

The commission proposed that the 100MW ceiling be removed as the Eskom grid could regulate the increased energy market; that National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) regulations on registration and implementation of renewable projects be scrapped and replaced with an online registration procedure; the fast-tracking of environmental assessments; and a temporary exemption for construction and commissioning of new projects that will come online in the next three years.

Questions sent to the DMRE and Mantashe were acknowledged but not responded to at the time of writing.

Happy Khambule, energy manager for Business Unity South Africa, told DM168 that some of the red tape that stood in the way of tackling the energy crisis included removing the cap on the 100MW self-embedded generation. Khambule also said addressing the legislative barriers around environmental impact assessments and approvals around access to land in order to build transmission lines for the much-needed renewable plants were also key to the development of renewables.

“There’s a lot of land from the previous bid windows that is ready to provide power to the grid but they are not doing so because there’s no transmission … there wasn’t a discussion between Eskom, Nersa and the plant designers to say, well, ‘you should be closer to the grid’. People just built and they thought the grid was going to come and it never did. So there’s a coordination problem there,” Khambule said.

He added that there was money coming from the private sector to build transmission lines towards the direction of the Eskom grid but some of them were too far, thus too costly, and that the authorities needed to pull their weight as well.

Presidential Climate Commission

Presidential Climate Commission executive director Dr Crispian Olver told DM168 that the major constraint to scaling up renewable capacity was that the grid was designed for coal energy and that the necessary reconfiguration for a renewables grid required “a major level of investment”.

COP26 saw South Africa benefit from a partnership that invested R8.5-billion into its just energy transition strategy. Olver said a large amount of the investment needed to go into upgrading the country’s grid.

“We need to put renewables on to the grid as fast as humanly possible. We estimate that we need about three to four gigawatts per annum for the next 30 years, which is equivalent to the entire REIPPP. There’s got to be a massive scaling up in terms of the pace at which renewables are coming on to the grid … we would be supportive of a mix of models, not just IPPs,” Olver added.

Mantashe has recently stated that his department will be revisiting and will likely update the IRP soon. The plan sets out the timelines for decommissioning coal-fired power stations and adding 44,000MW of new capacity, including 18,000MW of wind energy and 8,000MW of solar. Eskom plans to decommission 8,000MW to 12,000MW of coal-fired power generation over the next decade, which will – if not met with commensurate increased generation capacity – enlarge the supply shortfall.

Jan Oberholzer, Eskom’s chief operating officer, has said that the country needs to add 50,000MW of additional generation capacity to the grid over the next 13 years to cover the energy supply gap and replace retiring coal stations.

The ageing coal stations have also contributed a great deal to the current crisis. Yelland explained to DM168 that the ageing infrastructure was another major problem; as plants age, their availability decreases. And though maintenance might seem like the solution, that means switching off the plants for three to four months at a time, resulting in higher stages of load shedding than the country is currently facing.

ANC National Executive Committee

The ANC’s statement on the outcomes of its National Executive Committee meeting urged the government and Eskom to increase maintenance and improve the availability of existing supply; facilitate private investment in new-generation capacity; speed up the repurposing of power stations with alternative energy sources; accelerate the procurement of battery storage; empower municipalities to procure additional energy sources; and encourage businesses and households to invest in renewable energies.

The delay in ministerial guidelines on how municipalities can generate their own electricity was a barrier that needed to be reviewed, Nicole Loser, attorney and programme head of pollution and climate change at the Centre for Environmental Rights, told DM168. In 2020, Ramaphosa announced in his State of the Nation Address that municipalities in good standing would be able to generate energy independently, but the finer details on how this would be achieved have been sluggish at best.

The City of Cape Town has been spearheading municipal energy independence by shielding its residents from Stage 6 load shedding, keeping to Stage 4 with the Steenbras hydroelectric scheme.

Beverley van Reenen, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, told DM168 that the City was on its way towards ending load shedding over time with small-scale embedded generation, wheeling (i.e. the transportation of energy from privately generated power to the national grid), IPPs and building its own solar plant in Atlantis.

Stellenbosch is currently looking at producing about 10% of its energy independently. It has done so by installing solar panels on its municipal buildings and also has residents following suit.

“The first 780kW of generation has been completed on a number of municipal building rooftops. This, together with public installation, brings us to a total of 4,000kW of installations. We need to go to 7,500kW to reach 10%. Note that all these units are also assisting Eskom in not having to generate this load and load shedding can therefore be delayed,” Deon Louw, acting director of infrastructure services of the Stellenbosch Municipality, told DM168.

Municipalities taking matters into their own hands are bolstered by the findings of a study conducted by the University of Oxford’s Environment Change Institute and published in April, which identified South Africa and Egypt as the most favourable African countries for renewable energy development and investments.

Dr Doorga Jay Rovisham Singh, now a lecturer at Université des Mascareignes and lead author of the study, answered some of DM168’s questions.

“SA has one of the best solar and wind potentials of the entire African continent. So, besides the environmental context, there is huge economic viability in exploiting renewable energy in hotspots. So much that they are even cheaper than constructing new coal power plants,” he said.

“Also, there is a good supply chain and institutional framework to support renewable energy projects, as several projects have been recently implemented…”

In reference to load shedding, Singh said “the outages are indeed an issue in SA, but this is mainly due to ageing coal power plants. So the country needs to diversify its energy mix to accommodate more renewable energy, which would guarantee stability.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25. 

Gallery
Absa OBP

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 20

  • The ANC crime syndicate specializes in theft, not making sure the country has enough energy. Plan A, the construction of Kusile and Madupi, backs this up. The poorly constructed power stations were there mainly for self-enrichment. Worked so well that Jacob Zuma wanted to try the whole thing again, this time using nuclear. Plan B is taking so long as the ANC needs to first work out how they will benefit from this plan. SA’s best chance of survival is to get rid of the ANC.

  • A blind man on a galloping horse can see that he will take no responsibility for this crisis. His alibi: It’s someone else, not him.

    Shyster.

  • Gwede won’t do anything unless there are opportunities to insert intermediaries for rent extraction that can benefit the ANC. The money for that has run out leaving Eskom with an unsustainable pile of debt. Energy provision is being privatised by default, like so many of the services we used to expect from government.

  • ‘Presidential Climate Commission executive director Dr Crispian Olver told DM168 that the major constraint to scaling up renewable capacity was that the grid was designed for coal energy and that the necessary reconfiguration for a renewables grid required “a major level of investment’. I don’t understand … the sums say the gains are worth the price. As for the politics I feel the old joke about the definition of politics is relevant: Poly means many and ticks are blood sucking insects! Time for protests like the ones that brought all South Africans together when we understood we’re in the hands of a government that was utterly corrupt.

  • Who are the diesel suppliers to Escom? Surely these are the main beneficiaries of the break downs and load shedding!? Has anyone investigated whether there are links between the saboteurs and diesel suppliers? Is/are ANC cadre(s) involved?

    Any state of emergency leads to a circumvention of the constitution and democratic checks and balances and must be resisted vehemently; if broadened a state of emergency can be instituted and abused to suspend the 2024 elections, which I think is the strategy of the ANC taking shape at the moment. One gets the impression that the current neglect of government of essential services, especially maintenance of critical physical infrastructure, is deliberate, geared towards a suspension of the constitution, rule of law and parliamentary opposition, and investigative journalism – in the “national” ( read RET/ANC) interest.
    We are in a very dangerous phase in our history at the moment.

  • We need someone with the energy and dedication to rectify this ridiculous situation. Gwede Mantashe is not that person and must be removed from his cabinet position.
    Experts made it clear what is required and how it can be achieved, but he refused to act on the advice.
    As for the labour unions involvement in the present stages of load shedding. Well, as long as the tripartite alliance or similar exists with their involvement, in this or any future government, they will remain a major stumbling block to any improvement.
    The writing is on the wall and if immediate action doesn’t take place South Africa will implode.

  • Where is our President through all this finger pointing going on?
    Surely he is the one to take responsibility as he is their leader.
    Sadly he is weak and does not know how to put his foot down.
    What a huge disappointment our dear Cyril has been.

  • Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Despite its abundant resources South Africa is failing. The ANC government just talks and squabbles and seems to serve no purpose but obstruction to progress.

  • the first thing is that most councils should deploy solar plus storage for stage 2 load shedding as a dispatchable energy source (via the storage) between 6AM and 6PM. 12 hours a day would for most parts of SA require roughly 3.5solar plus 7hour storage to deliver 1dispatchable. So if my town has 100MW demand and stage 2 therefore means average of 3hours per day it must make a plan for 12.5MW of dispatchable so the project size is call it 45MW of solar mated to 90MWh of battery storage. Budget say R700m, less if the country sorts out bulk selection of say three vendors. Then that town (1) forever free from two stages of loadshredding (2) reduces its Eskom bill by 15% now and more like 30% by 2026

  • I actually do not have the stomach for this anymore. The fact that this problem has persisted for 14 years with not one person in power actually addressing it with any understanding of the severity of the matter, and with absolutely no sense of urgency and zero accountability for the current state of emergency that we find ourselves in (which it is) is positively criminal. Everyone you speak to is experiencing some form dis-ease at the moment ranging from frustration, to mild illness, anger and depression. Any minister with the slightest hint of a conscience or some semblance of integrity would step down. The outcome I would like to see is that the all ANC members of the National Assembly step down. President included. THEY ALL MUST GO NOW. Each one of them should be subjected to a disciplinary in a public court of the people. Let us decide on suitable sentences. Could someone please advise the way forward as I personally would like this process to begin asap. Koko, Molefe, Zuma should be first in line and charged with crimes against humanity and treason. Why are we pussyfooting around this issue?

  • NEC telling the govt to provide more capacity. What a joke, the NEC is really the govt. Now they’re planning again on this same subject. All they can do is plan themselves into a pothole. DM should partner with the black African press wherever possible to bring the message of change of govt to the masses. Until this is done effectively we’ll be stuck with the current thieving mafia.

    • Like many I have also stopped commenting on such matters. The country is definitely doomed, it is like watching in slow motion as a giant locomotive comes off the tracks.

  • Johan Buys sums up some immediate solutions well.
    #EndCorruption #EndFossilFuels
    The article correctly points out that Minister Mantashe is currently the primary one being blamed, as he rightly should be, for being a typical denier pushing fossil fuel (and even nuclear!) as the only option and obstructing implementation of solutions. But the problem does come from far further back and a wide range of actors.
    What is clear is that the urgent, and longer term, response, is embracing renewables. And these need not all be large scale. Australia has demonstrated that voters are eager to invest in roof-top solar on their homes which can quickly be integrated into the grid. Community batteries could also be developed quite quickly to harvest the day-time excess, supporting the grid. (Article available of South Australia producing 100% electricity demand from renewables; similarly California getting there.)
    South Australia also recently produced 136.6% of its electricity requirements at 4h10 from renewables alone, yes, wind generation exclusively. (Article available)

  • Mbeki has escaped blame but imagine if the money spent on the corrupt arms deal had been used to address the looming energy crisis. A curse on the lot of them!

  • South Africa is so blessed to have someone like Gwede Mantashe at the helm, his knowledge far exceeds that of every energy specialist, in fact his knowledge and ability far exceeds the sum total of all the knowledge of all the world energy experts put together. He also has this amazing quality of knowing what’s best for all the citizens of this country, no one knows better than our own Gwede as to what South Africa needs, and his ability to listen, and ignore, the experts and outpourings of the suffering citizenry is unmatched by anyone anywhere in the world. What a great South African leader, unfortunately it would benefit everyone even more if he was not deaf dumb and blind and suffered with a little humility and had a modicum of honesty. He made it clear, he cannot be held responsible for any of this load shedding mess, possibly because he has not had access to any of the funds available to those ANC cadres who are benefitting from the Eskom issue. Watch how quickly his fuzzy brain changes if the Karpowership deal is approved. The lights and power at all of his many homes will never go off, and his bar will be well stocked with the world’s most expensive liquor, and of course, the home security system he had donated to him will never be affected by load shedding again. You go Gwede, you go boy – and when you reach the boarder with Mozambique just keep going – this country really does not need you and your dictatorial attitude – darkest Africa does!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted