Eskom and Government have come under fire for widespread electricity blackouts across the country due to a lack of capacity. The reason can be put down to bad planning from both Eskom and Government, something which will take years to rectify. Other factors contributing to the electricity crisis include the loss of skilled labour at Eskom and the rapid economic growth.
There is however another issue which made headlines – the export of electricity to neighboring countries while South Africans and local businesses are suffering without power.
According to Eskom’s latest Annual report – for the year April 2006 to March 2007 – the total electricity sold by Eskom was 218 120 GWh (Gigawatt hour).
The sale of electricity to other countries – which include Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia – amounted to 13 589 GWh. This means that around 6% of Eskom’s total electricity sales were to other countries in Southern Africa.
It is interesting to note that the 13 589 GWh of electricity sold to other countries is higher than the total residential electricity sales in South Africa during the period in question.
The electricity export to other countries exceeded the total output from South Africa’s only nuclear power station Koeberg which produced 11 780 GWh during the last financial year.
While no official figures are currently available, trade union Solidarity says that Eskom is currently exporting 3 000 MW of electricity to neighbouring countries.
The trade union demanded to know whether these countries are subject to Eskom’s load shedding which are employed in South Africa to compensate for a lack of capacity.
“Eskom is not laying all its cards on the table concerning the tremendous electricity problems that are besetting our country. We should like to know the real cause of this week’s sudden serious shortage. Can it perhaps be traced back to poor maintenance and a shortage of skilled workers? We should also like to know the effect of electricity sales to Namibia and Zimbabwe on the domestic supply and the price differential between electricity sales to South African consumers and these two countries,” Solidarity’s Jaco Kleynhans said.
Solidarity further said that they have been informed that Zimbabwe does not pay for the electricity supplied to it by Eskom – something that will not sit well with electricity starved South Africans.
There have been demands from some quarters that Eskom cuts its supply to other countries to ensure that local businesses and citizens don’t suffer from shortages.
“The electricity shortage in our country has become so serious that Eskom should seriously consider systematically phasing out electricity supplies to neighboring countries, while giving these countries the opportunity to find alternative solutions,” said Kleynhans.
“If it were not for these exports, South Africa would have had ample electricity supplies for its own needs.”
Government however downplayed the impact of the acute electricity shortages. Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said in a statement that “there is no need to panic about future investments, as has been alluded to by some.”
This is despite many warnings from economists and other experts that the current power shortages will have a significant effect on economic growth.
Eskom cutting its supply to other countries
In a surprise announcement Eskom said it does indeed cut the supply of electricity to neighbouring countries when there is a local shortfall.
According to Business Times Eskom's chief executive Jacob Maroga said export power was reduced whenever South Africa faced a shortage — but added that local consumers needed to save as much as 20% of consumption to ease the problem.
According to the report Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland face partial cuts in their supply as the power company tries to alleviate the effect on South African consumers.