South Africa Suffers Energy Crisis as Aging Coal Plants Fail
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a National State of Disaster over the country’s worst-ever rolling blackouts. Many customers have been without power for as much as 12 hours per day to keep aging coal-fired power plants — the backbone of the country’s electricity network — running.
Last year, South Africans endured more than twice as many blackouts as any previous year when Eskom — an electricity utility owned by the state — wasn’t able to come up with the funds for the diesel needed to power emergency generators after coal-fired power plants stopped working.
“We are in the grip of a profound energy crisis,” Ramaphosa said in his annual State of the Nation Address, as Reuters reported. “The crisis has progressively evolved to affect every part of society. We must act to lessen the impact of the crisis on farmers, on small businesses, on our water infrastructure and our transport network.”
The current power crisis is the product of several factors, including postponements in the construction of new coal-fired plants and regulations that make it difficult for private companies to provide renewable energy.
The unreliable power supply is slowing economic growth and hampering small businesses in a country with an unemployment rate of 33 percent, reported CNN.
“While economic growth has been volatile for some time, prospects for growth appear even more uncertain than normal. A material reduction in load-shedding (power cuts) would significantly raise growth,” said Governor of the South African Reserve Bank Lesetja Kganyago at the end of last month, as Reuters reported previously.
South Africa’s food supply is being threatened by the blackouts, reported The New York Times. Head of the South African Poultry Association Izaak Breitenbach said agricultural groups like theirs have lobbied for exemption from the power cuts.
While the load-shedding continues, food rots in supermarkets and restaurants close.
At one general store in the small town of Meyerton, about 33.5 miles south of Johannesburg, solar panels were being sold as an alternative power source for customers.
The solution to the energy crisis, analysts say, will mean strong courses of action like companies shelling out more money while subsidizing the poor.
“The people who will suffer most acutely from all of these problems are the poor and the marginalized, and that’s where the seeds of a social revolution are going to be planted,” said Khaya Sithole, an economic analyst in Johannesburg, as The New York Times reported.