There is a common misconception that discontinuing Eskom’s electricity exports to South Africa’s neighbours will help resolve the country’s power problems.
However, according to energy expert Chris Yelland, South Africa actually imports more electricity from its neighbours than it exports — and without them, the power situation could worsen.
“South Africa is a net importer of power from our neighbours. We buy more from our neighbours than we export,” Yelland said during an interview with Cape Talk.
“Trading of electricity is very important. It helps us greatly,” he added.
“Our neighbours are helping us meet our electricity needs, and the biggest one, of course, is Mozambique through the Cahora Bassa power line.”
Yelland said the transition line from the Cahora Bassa Dam hydroelectric power plant supplies a “very significant amount of steady, cheap electricity to South Africa”.
South Africa supplies electricity to its neighbours through two different kinds of trading arrangements.
“We do export some power to our neighbours, and rightly so,” Yelland said. “There are two types of electricity supply arrangements. The one is a so-called bilateral contract between Eskom and one of the neighbouring utilities.”
“The second one is a trading arrangement to what is known as the South African power pool,” he added.
He explained that Eskom trades electricity with Nampower in Namibia, and the Botswana Power Corporation, both of which receive power from South Africa.
He added that South Africa supplies some electricity to Swaziland and Lesotho, and the latter also exports power to us from its hydroelectric plants.
“This is a relatively small quantity of power if you were to look at South Africa’s overall power demand,” Yelland stated.
Yelland explained that the second arrangement — the South African power pool — works similarly to a stock exchange.
“When a utility like South Africa or one of our neighbours has excess capacity available over and above its needs to meet demand, it bids that electricity on the South African power pool,” he said.
The utilities can set a price to make the capacity available to countries with a shortage.
He specified that this helps these utilities generate revenue from surplus power while not contributing to further cuts.