Toward a more resilient South African energy system

Clean Energy Technology03 March 2014, Johannesburg – South Africa is supposed to be a developmental state yet the intentions that inform our national energy policy are at odds with the lived reality of most citizens.

President Zuma’s 2011 promise to deliver electricity to every home in the country by 2014 will not be met. More importantly, despite free electricity allowances, many of those connected to the grid find this power unaffordable.

South Africa’s approach to electrical power supply remains monolithic and inflexible. Policy has historically been dominated by the parastatal Eskom, one of the world’s largest power companies, informed in turn by the interests of its major customers, the Intensive User Group.

On the other hand smaller users like municipalities, medium and small businesses and private households remain marginalised despite the significant role they can play to address energy shortages, costs and supply.

Our energy policy is mired in old paradigm thinking. While renewable energy has started to penetrate the market, its impacts are limited through compliance with the preferential tender system, rather than open market competition. Additionally, our grid remains dumb while smart grids are the way of the future.

The global energy market is entering what is referred to as phase change. This is a situation where, due to the complexity of the underlying dynamics, massive changes remain un-noticed until they become so overwhelming they are inescapable.

While our energy market is headed toward a phase change, those driving local policy remain blithely unaware of the fault-lines shifting.

This month should see the publication of the most recent update to the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity, an overdue revision of the 2010/11 IRP.

The IRP effectively underpins our national energy policy as it feeds significant updated engineering, economic and comparative data into the political decision-making sphere.

This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the inherent limitations of our current generating system which remains under serious pressure due to under-capacity, exacerbated by breakdowns and routine service demands. These shortcomings are worsened by ongoing delays in bringing the new Medupi power station online.


– The South African Civil Society Information Service

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