Eskom woes shock neighbours into action

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Johannesburg - Power utility Eskom this week warned that South Africa’s power grid was under severe pressure, triggering the country’s neighbours into rethinking their own electricity supply systems.

Eskom has for nearly a decade battled ageing equipment, escalating debt and allegations of corruption that have resulted in gradually increasing episodes of load shedding.

The utility is a major player in the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP), and it either supplies or supplements a significant proportion of the base load of utilities in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Economic analyst Levy Chero told The Southern Times Business that the challenges at Eskom had spurred SADC countries to step up efforts to bring their own generation projects to fruition.

“Eskom has become a less reliable anchor for the SAPP as a whole. This has encouraged other Southern African countries to step up efforts and innovate ways to light up themselves,” said Chero. 

Chero added that the falling cost of renewables had made solar energy a realistic option for many SADC states.

Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – among other nations in the region – are at various stages of rolling out grid-scale solar power projects.

Chero said, “For instance, Zimbabwe unveiled a plan in April to secure 2,1GW of capacity through renewable energy projects by 2030. Current installed capacity totals 1,9GW, assuming all five thermal and hydro plants are fully operational, and that is well below the level of demand.

“Harare has now decided to open up the market to IPPs (independent power producers). This is principally for solar, but also includes small hydro and other renewable energy technologies.”

Energy expert Liane Bizzils said Angola was leading the way in self- efficiency in energy production.

Angola is not connected to SAPP and is largely energy self-sufficient.

“Luanda’s strategy foresees the development of a string of large hydro schemes, as well as the conversion of all diesel plants to gas over the next three years. However, more progress is needed on extending the reach of transmission and distribution infrastructure.

“Financing these ambitions could prove challenging, given the enormous impact of the COVID19 crisis on the oil prices, which govern Angolan export revenues,” Bizzils said.

Bizzils said Mozambique was making great progress in coal and gas energy generation, but expressed concern over Botswana’s slow pace in maximising on its solar potential.

She said, “Botswana is taking its first steps towards coal-bed methane-fired power generation. It is surprising that the country has not focused more fully on solar energy, given that it boasts some of the world’s best solar resources.”

South Africa has long been a dominant player in the region’s energy sector with Eskom generating 52GW of electricity. However, the country has historically been over-dependent on coal-fired plants.

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