South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on February 9 declared a “state of national disaster” in response to power shortages that resulted in daily power cuts in the continent’s most industrialized country.
The statement comes as South Africa’s Eskom power company fails to produce enough electricity, with power cuts of up to eight, even 10 hours a day, hitting homes, factories and businesses across the country. to 60 million people.
According to Mr. Ramaphosa, the declaration will allow his government to exempt essential services such as hospitals and water treatment plants from power outages and allow the government to purchase more electricity from neighboring countries in the field. emergency case.
At the same time, it allows the government to help businesses cope with the effects of widespread power cuts, including a broader supply of diesel generators and solar panels.
As does so?
Eskom supplies much of South Africa’s electricity through coal-fired power plants that have been overused and have not been maintained for years. Suspending equipment for maintenance will exacerbate short-term overloads as Eskom has very little backup power.
This problem is expected to be overcome after the two largest coal-fired plants in the world, Medupi and Kusile, are built in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa.
However, after 15 years of construction, these plants are still only operating about half of the total capacity of 9,600 MW due to failures, technical errors, delays and accidents.
Cost overruns of billions of dollars at these two plants forced Eskom to take on a debt of 389 billion rand ($22.7 billion), leaving the company in a precarious financial position. Theft of electricity, even in the impoverished towns of South Africa, and the failure of city customers to pay make the situation worse.
The company had been at a loss for years and had to rely on a government bailout to stay solvent. For the financial year ending March 2022, Eskom reported a loss of 12.3 billion rand ($723 million). Despite the steep tax increase for customers, Eskom still cannot cover its costs.
Misery a hundred sides
For some people, the lack of access to stable electricity can be the deciding factor in life and death.
Before her death in October 2022, Lis Van Os needed oxygen for 17 hours a day, so a stable power source was required, making power cuts extremely difficult for her. family grandma.
Even simple daily tasks such as cooking, or working with the Internet need to be arranged according to the offload schedule, making daily life for South Africans difficult.
The lack of electricity threatens food and clean water supplies, disrupting the lives of millions. Many small businesses without backup power had to close and lay off employees. Households business Small and small businesses also have difficulty when they have to spend their own money to buy diesel oil for generators.
In the poultry industry, power outages forced factories to halt operations. As a result, more than 10 million birds designated for slaughter are still alive and consuming feed, creating a backlog that companies fear they won’t be able to deal with.
Izaak Breitenbach, CEO of the South African Poultry Association, said in an interview: “We actually have enough chickens at the farms across the country, but we can’t supply the market because we don’t have enough chickens. can slaughter chickens.
As a backup, producers have started using generators, driving the price of chicken production even higher. In addition, chickens that have been raised for a long time will become too large for companies like KFC, which means chicken companies will lose revenue.
Power outages also cause problems in the agricultural production chain, affecting the irrigation, processing and storage of crops.
Gys Olivier, a farmer from Hertzogville in the Free State province, said he and other farmers in the area were forced to throw away hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of seed potatoes due to cold storage of the product. supply chain disruptions.
Among those affected are farmers in the Northern Cape province, who are suffering from massive heat waves that have brought temperatures in some areas to 117 degrees. Without electricity, they cannot irrigate their crops, including the thirsty citrus trees.
Chris Hattingh, head of policy analysis at the Center for Risk Analysis, said that if the blackouts continue, South Africa’s economic growth this year is likely to be capped at 1. 5%. According to a Bloomberg survey, there is a 45% chance that the South African economy will slip into recession as the energy crisis grows.
Where is the solution?
Faced with unending power outages, South Africans are desperately searching for alternative energy sources. However, the cost of using solar energy is also very high, beyond the reach of many people.
In addition, they also have to wait because the demand for this type of energy is quite high. “I know one solar supplier that received 40 requests just last week, all for large solar projects,” said Angus Williamson, a cattle farmer from the province. KwaZulu-Natal said.
Even so, renewable energy is also not the first choice for South Africans, as it cannot meet the demand during the evening peak hours due to very little sun and wind.
South Africa’s National Energy Crisis Committee has proposed several measures to ease the crisis in the short term, including importing energy from neighboring countries and purchasing surplus energy from private producers. core.
According to Ms. Lungile Mashele, a South African energy expert, a set of laws is being developed to allow approval and development of power plants. The government also recently approved new wind and solar projects in a long-term program to buy renewable energy from independent electricity producers.
According to Cape Town-based Future Growth Asset Management, the program has attracted more than 209 billion rand ($12.3 billion). invest into the private sector between 2011 and 2020. Major economies such as the US, UK and the European Union have promised to invest $8.5 billion in clean energy in South Africa.
However, repairing Eskom’s aging plants and bringing new renewable energy projects into operation takes time. Degraded grid infrastructure and capacity constraints will be huge obstacles in the transition to clean energy in this African country.
Nguyen Tuyet (According to Washington Post, Bloomberg, CNN)