ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe recently said that South Africa’s power woes were a “positive challenge”.
Mantashe argued that capacity is overloaded because the economy is growing, and more people now have access to electricity.
His comments followed earlier statements from President Jacob Zuma, who said at the ANC’s 103rd birthday celebrations that the current spate of power outages was the fault of bad planning during apartheid.
“After 1994, we had to provide energy to all, because people had the right to energy, and we suddenly realised we don’t have enough,” Zuma said.
While Mantashe may have wanted to provide a positive perspective to the problem, Zuma’s utterances seemed to be nothing but an attempt to distract from the issue.
The truth is that there has been ample opportunity to correct Eskom’s past mistakes and the apartheid government’s exclusionary energy planning, and unfortunately there is no real positive angle from which to view this crisis.
“Of course apartheid played some role in the problems we’re facing today,” energy expert and managing director of EE Publishers Chris Yelland said when asked about the statements from Mantashe and Zuma.
That does not excuse the fact that the current government did not build additional power plants when Eskom planners said they needed to.
An increasingly urbanised population with a growing middle class who consumes more electricity is also no different to any other country in the world, Yelland argued.
“These are absolutely normal occurrences that must be planned for properly,” he said.
The bottom line is that Eskom is not in a position to meet demand, and the reason is because of failures from both the power utility and the government.
Eskom can’t generate enough power to serve South Africa because two critical coal power projects, Medupi and Kusile, are running 10 years late.
Yelland explained that the government was responsible for the first half of the delay because of policy indecision between 1999 and 2004, due to uncertainty over whether Eskom would do the build.
Once the projects made it through South Africa’s bureaucracy, there was another 5-year execution delay at Eskom.
Finally construction commenced on Medupi in 2007, and on Kusile in 2008.
“Those two plants should have been completed by end of 2013 and 2014, but the reality is that not a single unit at either Medupi or Kusile is delivering any electricity yet,” Yelland said.
The earliest we’ll see a unit online at Medupi is this year, and the whole plant will only come online by 2019, he said.
“That’s why we’re having load shedding.”
It is also the reason Eskom is in financial trouble.
South Africans are using less electricity, Yelland said, and Eskom is burning through expensive diesel to meet the decreased demand.
“It has nothing to do with growing population or apartheid and everything to do with poor planning and slow execution,” said Yelland.
It all comes back to Eskom
Every excuse Eskom or the government has made for South Africa’s electricity crisis can be rebuffed with the fact that Medupi and Kusile weren’t online when they were supposed to be.
Why is Eskom running out of water at some plants? Because these are emergency reserves that are being run too hard that would not have been required at all if Medupi and Kusile were online.
Why is Eskom deferring on maintenance? Because it doesn’t have enough supply to do maintenance properly by-the-book, due to Medupi and Kusile being delayed.
Why is it that when it rains, when it’s cold, when it’s hot that we have problems? Because there isn’t enough supply.
“Medupi and Kusile would’ve added an additional 25% of our current capacity to the grid,” Yelland said.
Eskom can blame whoever it wants for the delays, whether it be the builders, the welding, or software, but it is ultimately responsible for engineering, procurement, and construction.
“It chose the subcontractors,” Yelland said.
Furthermore, if Medupi and Kusile were finished then Eskom wouldn’t be in the poor financial position it finds itself in.
“Eskom’s sales would not be declining, they would be increasing,” Yelland argued.
The utility is paying back debt it has incurred on infrastructure projects, but none of the plants are generating a single watt of electricity.
“All you’ve got are costs, but no sales,” Yelland said.