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Crisis plan from Ramaphosa is good, but has its flaws

by Luqmaan Rawat
The 10-point crisis plan aims to reduce load shedding and help Eskom

South Africa – President Ramaphosa finally announced new emergency measures to deal with the rolling blackouts. South Africa’s energy crisis has struck a nerve with consumers who have been fed up with a lack of action from the government.

Loadshedding has gone on for far too long impacting the economy in a negative way. Ramaphosa laid out a ten-point plan to deal with the energy crisis. While some have welcomed the plan and called it positive, David Nicholls, Former Chief Nuclear Officer at Eskom, is not as positive about the new plan. He believes that some points are too audacious for the government to complete.

Ramaphosa putting pressure on Eskom is the right thing

Eskom’s coal fleet has been disastrous to say the least. The way it transports coal, and the quality of that coal is subpar. The main thing now for Nicholls is to try and get the coal fleet running smoothly.

“The important thing is to put pressure on Eskom to fix its current coal fleet. Get them back available. That’s the short-term issue. That’s the one which is absolutely supportable, and we must do that and put all the pressure we can, all the support we can for Eskom to get its coal fleet back into a sensible level of availability. Not world-class, just into the middle of the range.”

It is a known issue that Eskom is not being supplied with pure coal. This, some say, is a form of sabotage against Eskom. However, Nicholls doesn’t believe it’s sabotage. Rathe it is people not doing their job properly because of low morale.

“Basically, if the morale in the organisation is not there, people stop worrying about doing their jobs properly. I think that is what we’re seeing in the sabotage area … It’s an issue of the leadership and the morale in the organisation. Generally, if the morale was good in Eskom, I don’t think you’d be having these problems.”

Nicholls did admit there is some form of sabotage occurring at Eskom, but it has nothing to do with the coal. Getting Eskom going is still the most fundamental issue that has to be tackled.

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The one goal Ramaphosa has set that won’t make a difference 

Ramaphosa announced the complete scrapping of licensing requirements for private energy projects that feed into the electricity grid. There was a licence required for those producing 1MW, then the cap was raised to 100MW. Now they can go as high as they want. This scraping is nothing to be happy about as Nicholls pointed out that not many have taken up the option of producing 100MW, so this goal won’t make much of a difference.

“There’s been no great take up of the 100MW option which is still a very large amount of power by any normal means. The problem with that is that even at an unlimited capacity, you’ve got to find your customers for your power. Sort out the wheeling cost through the grid system to your customer, sort out who’s taking all the risks and who is providing the backup power for when your plant is not available those issues haven’t been solved yet.”

Eskom will buy surplus electricity

Eskom has already been buying surplus electricity. The problem is that most surplus electricity is available in the mornings. This is because it comes from solar electricity. At the times it is available, Eskom does not need it. While there are plans to store that surplus electricity, the costs are far too great, explained Nicholls.

“That is one of the key issues and nobody’s yet got storage at a reasonably competitive level. There’s talk in the National Planning Commission’s recommendations of a 5 000MW battery which sounds really exciting but that is about half of the entire world’s battery storage. It’s going to be about R150 billion to buy it.”

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Importing electricity from other countries

South Africa has always exported electricity to neighbouring states. Ramaphosa has announced Eskom will now import electricity from Zambia and Botswana as they have more electricity capacity than required. This idea is a no brainer for Nicholls who pointed out South Africa already import power from Mozambique.

“If there’s power available from Botswana and Zambia we should be trying to get in as fast as we can. I think the issue of taking more power from existing sources is to me almost a no-brainer. I’m not quite sure why we need a speech to make that happen.”

The key factor for Nicholls is about storage. It is all well and good for the government to subsidise solar panels and allow citizens to sell excess power to Eskom. However, as long as Eskom cannot store the electricity, it will not help. For Nicholls, the plan seems good and while there are flaws to it, the most important part is whether it will be implemented properly or not.

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