The collapse of electricity in South Africa heralds a difficult winter…and the government is resorting to a new solution

The collapse of electricity in South Africa heralds a difficult winter…and the government is resorting to a new solution
The collapse of electricity in South Africa heralds a difficult winter…and the government is resorting to a new solution

The electricity crisis in South Africa has taken a new dangerous turn that threatens to stop the movement of industry, which calls for urgent intervention to save citizens and the economy from the clutches of darkness, which does not seem to dissipate soon.

In this regard, a senior official in the state electricity company, Eskom, warned of power outages reaching unprecedented levels this winter, according to a report published by Reuters.

Seeking a way out of the crisis, the government unveiled a proposal for a new tender for shale gas exploration in the Karoo Basin, despite strong opposition from environmental activists and local farmers.

The electricity crisis in South Africa

The electricity grid in South Africa suffers from accumulated debt crises, in addition to its weak financial ability to cover operating costs, and the frequent breakdowns are due to the aging of facilities that are close to exceeding their lifespan, in addition to the need for maintenance operations and experienced workers.

Already, homes and businesses in Africa’s largest industrial economy are subjected to scheduled power outages of up to 10 hours per day.

According to the national electricity company, Eskom, the consequences of the power outages were dire for the economy, as the gross domestic product decreased by about 5% in the past year (2022).

It is noteworthy that South Africa has pledged to the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, but this may seem far-fetched in light of the country’s dependence on coal to secure 80% of its electricity, according to information monitored by the specialized energy platform.

Eskom – the largest electricity producer in South Africa – was planning to close coal power plants between 2031 and 2034, but President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed in January 2023 that his country would not abandon coal for the energy transition.

Hard winter

The gap between electricity supply and demand in South Africa is expected to widen over the coming winter, which will put additional pressure on the already overburdened grid.

“It’s going to be a very tough winter,” says Eskom’s executive director of power transmission, Segomoku Schippers.

Eskom has not yet passed the “sixth stage”, which requires a reduction of 6,000 megawatts from the network, but this winter may witness the transition to the “eighth stage”, which may require a reduction of about 8,000 megawatts, equivalent to a 16-hour power cut over a 32-hour period. , according to Schippers.

He said, “The eighth stage” is just a scenario that Eskom is preparing for, in the event that its interventions fail to prevent the situation from deteriorating, noting that this is a very low possibility.

“The alternative would be to cut off the power supply, which is a nightmare because it is an uncontrollable situation when the state loses supplies,” he added.

He pointed out that power outages are “necessary to avoid the collapse of the network,” according to the report, which was reviewed by the specialized energy platform.

It should be noted that South Africa started the sixth phase of load shedding on January 11, 2023, after several malfunctions in the generating stations, and has not canceled it yet.

Karoo Basin

In an effort to solve the electricity crisis in South Africa, the government has decided to issue bids for gas exploration in 10 new onshore blocks in the Karoo Basin, according to a report published by Reuters today, Thursday, May 18, 2023.

This is the first competitive bid for oil and gas exploration in South Africa and is expected to take place between 2024 and 2025, once a law is passed in Parliament allowing it.

The Karoo basin contains about 209 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, according to estimates by the South African Petroleum Agency (PASA), the government regulator for onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration.

And the South African Academy of Sciences says – in a report issued last year – that only 5 trillion cubic feet will be enough to operate a power plant, to generate from 1,000 to 2,000 gigawatts, for up to 30 years.

environmental objections

Hydraulic fracturing to extract gas in the Karoo Basin, which covers half the land area, has been stalled for more than a decade, due to opposition from environmentalists, farmers and regulatory suspicions.

The term hydraulic fracturing refers to the process of injecting chemicals and water into fissures in the rock, to extract gas.

Opponents of the move have doubts about the impact of drilling operations on air quality, soil degradation, and water use in a semi-arid region.

On the farmers’ side, there are concerns that water that is already scarce will be depleted by these operations and may become contaminated, which will hurt agricultural productivity.

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