While the figure seems implausible, the harsh reality is that millions of South African households are facing another dark day, especially the so-called ‘shackdwellers’.
At the recently held Africa Energy Indaba, the Minister of Energy, Jeff Radebe alluded to the fact that the 3 million households are without electricity due to inaccessibility of the grid. He highlighted the government’s electricity subsidy programme that resulted in 8 million households receiving access to electricity.
He said at the event held in Johannesburg that the grid connections have been effective in providing lighting and small power, but it is unsuitable for providing thermal energy for cooking and space heating. Whilst not referring to ESKOM directly, this was surely an indirect reference to the power utility’s inability to seamlessly carry the electricity demand of the population during winter months. “A significant thermal energy load still needs to be provided for, by providing solutions side by side with off-grid technologies, particularly in those areas that are too remote to build grid-based infrastructure” Radebe said.
The minister said that improved energy security, diversification of the energy mix, increasing access to modern energy carriers, energy efficiency and lowering the cost of energy, are the important contemporary matters that are being discussed in the country. Radebe hinted that fossil fuel like coal will not be replaced anytime soon as a source of generation owing to its cheap price. He did however indicate the need to modernize the sector to ensure that its carbon emissions are considerate of the Paris Agreement regarding low carbon emissions and the protection of the citizens through responsible environmental development.
Regarding the loadshedding experienced recently Radebe said that ESKOM was operating at a generating capacity of 40% excluding what he referred to as “suppressed demand”. According to Radebe the country needs to ensure that the trend of lower economic activity coupled with rising electricity tariffs over the last couple of years needs to be ended as it does not bode well for investments both domestically and foreign.
“The green economy is a game changer that we have been very successful in adopting through the Renewable Energy IPP Programme. Since the inception of the programme government has been successful in increasing the contribution of clean energy from 0% in 2010 to over 4.5 % within 5 years”, stated Radebe. Investment in the renewable energy sector will exceed R250 billion, with the signing in 2018 of an additional 27 projects signifying more than 2000 megawatts. Radebe also cited most emerging economies like South Africa face risks of high cost of energy including regulatory, financial and administrative barriers and their accompanying investment risks. The minister had an unambiguous message that infrastructure must be built timeously to meet the energy demands of industrialisation.
The importance of a reliable, sustainable, competitive and secure electricity supply were highlighted as crucial for the attraction of investments to Africa and South Africa. Radebe indicated that as a response the government has introduced a planning framework for the energy sector, e.g. Integrated Energy Plan, the National Energy Efficiency Strategy and Action Plan, the Integrated Resource Plan, the Gas Utilization Master Plan and the Liquid Fuels Master Plan.
Radebe furthermore indicated that with the increasing availability of gas in Southern Africa the country will be in a position to expand electricity generation through the use of gas. In this regard the recently Brulpadda gas resource discovery in the Outeniqua Basin will be a welcoming addition to the energy mix. According to Radebe the imported liquefied natural gas (or LNG), piped natural gas, imported liquefied petroleum gas (or LPG), indigenous gas like coal-bed methane and eventually shale gas, are part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) strategy for regional economic integration. South Africa is currently in discussion with the Democratic Republic of Congo to procure approximately 13 000MW of clean electricity from its Grand Inga Hydropower project. The gas resources of Mozambique and Tanzania have also attracted the attention of Radebe as potential suppliers through a cross-boundary gas pipeline infrastructure.
Minister Radebe did not have nice words to say regarding the delivery and cost of electricity at municipal level. “We have to be honest and acknowledge that the challenges with electricity supply have had a stunting effect on our economies and we have therefore not fully eaxploited the potential for job creation. Our communities are also demanding adequate service delivery including the supply of affordable electricity. We are duty-bound as government leaders” Radebe concluded.