Addressing the electricity crisis in South Africa

The electrical power outages and events in South Africa since January 2008 have served to vividly highlight the nature and extent of the electricity problems currently faced in South Africa. Any doubt as to the severity of the situation and the actual and potential impact on the economy and on every aspect of day-to-day activities has surely been quelled over this period.

The problems that we face in the electricity industry in South Africa are multifaceted, and we can identify a number of individual crises that collectively contribute to and form the overall electricity crisis. It is crucial that we address these holistically and systematically, and not in a piecemeal manner, and in terms of the overall electricity supply chain, as well as in terms of ancillary issues

These problems that we face cannot only be seen in the context of the generation capacity issues, nor can they be seen only in the failure by government to timeously understand the nature and extent of the problem and allow Eskom to belatedly start building new generation capacity.

The electricity supply chain extends from generation, through the bulk transmission of power, to the distribution networks that feed the majority of the individual industrial, commercial and residential consumers. Problems, and indeed crises, are being experienced at all levels in the supply chain, for varied, and sometimes similar, reasons. It is therefore important that we unpack and address these separately, but in a holistic manner that also addresses the bigger picture.

So what then is the nature and extent of this multi-faceted problem – this set of crises mentioned earlier?  A number of individual crises can and have been identified, including:

  • A generation and transmission crisis (the “bulk power problem”)
  • A distribution crisis
  • A broader (including skills and financial) resources crisis
  • A credibility, confidence and communications crisis

They are collectively at the heart of the broader electricity crisis. Whilst the events of the past years have served to focus attention on the generation crisis in particular, it is vital that we leverage this focus and attention to tangibly address all of these individual crisis areas, in order to ensure the integrity of the total electricity supply chain.

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