A Brighter South Africa

Written by Eleonora Rizzo

I must admit that living for three months in South Africa has opened my eyes to many issues that - as a European citizen – I never had the chance to experience on a daily basis.
Imagine for example that you just came home from work, it’s six in the evening and the only thing that you’re dreaming of is to take a pleasant hot shower, put the heater on and cook something nice and warm for dinner. Unfortunately, as soon as you slide your key into the door and look for the light switch with your hand, you realize that… there’s no electricity! Most probably, you’re now thinking something like: “Shame, I should have checked the load shedding reports this morning. I am such an idiot. Let’s order some pizza.” It took me quite a while to get used to a situation in which having a continuous stream of electricity for days is more like a miracle than normality.

But here’s what South African people have been experiencing since 2008, when the country began to suffer from widespread rolling blackouts. Due to a lack of planning by the state-owned utility provider – ESKOM - major maintenance issues and lack of generation capacity of the out-dated power stations have arisen in recent years. Since the current electricity demand outstrips supply, a temporary solution of scheduled power outages has been implemented to prevent the collapse of the entire national electricity grid. This is what the so-called “load shedding” consists of.

For most South Africans checking the load shedding forecast in the morning has become a daily habit, in the same way as most people around the world browse the weather forecast of the week while sipping some black coffee. And I must say all those “load shedding” apps and the “load shedding-friendly” recipes published in magazines and on blogs saved my life during these last winter months I spent in Cape Town.
Over the last years, a great number of honourable professors, scientists, political leaders and experts have been arguing around the solutions to solve the current energy crisis. While the debate over the possible privatisation of the state-owned company Eskom is still open, an increasing number of sustainable energy projects are making their way in the South African panorama.

The inauguration of a 7.8 billion rand ($ 640m) concentrated solar panel (CPS) plant in March 2015 is but the tip of an iceberg, which boasts Africa already hosting 6 of the biggest CPS plants in the world. 
Privatisation seems to be playing an ever-growing key role in the struggle, with the Department of Energy setting a significant share of the new electricity capacity to Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

SA’s REIPPPP is the fastest growing renewable energy programme in the world and has already seen significant investment flowing into the country. Private sector investment in renewable energy generation is expected to reach R193bn ($ 14m) following the recent announcement of another 13 preferred bidders for wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) projects by Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

The programme’s success has led to one investor labelling it "the most successful public-private partnership in Africa in the last 20 years". It is among the top ten privately funded renewable energy programmes in the world.
However valuable, the impact of renewables counts for a minor part, while fossil fuels still represent the major source of power in the country (almost 50%); but this figure can be reduced to 23% according to McKinsey .
Not only is energy poverty affecting SA’s economic credibility on a global scale, but it is also seriously challenging the survival of small enterprises and business as well as the overall well-being of households.
We hope that South Africa’s leaders will persevere with their commitment to renewable sources of energy as a way to overcome the recent energy challenges, and that their example will be followed by many other countries.