A dark, cold winter awaits South Africans: analysts

The president may have taken a bold step in relaxing the licensing requirements for independent power but the reality we are still facing many dark days lie ahead.

JOHANNESBURG - The president may have taken a bold step on Thursday in relaxing the licensing requirements for independent power.

The arrival of winter brought with it additional demands on Eskom's vulnerable grid.

It was 14-years-ago that Eskom introduced South Africa to its term for rolling blackouts: load-shedding.

Despite a reprieve of a few years, the power cuts are back with a vengeance.

The power utility announced Stage 4 load-shedding in the week - a cut of 4 000 megawatts, not seen since 2019. 

Eskom's inability to meet demand is brought about by its failing and ageing infrastructure

Its massive new-build projects are still not fully operational - or they are already failing.

READ: WATCH | SA opens up to private power to ease blackouts

"So, you're looking at a 500-billion build programme that's not completed and not providing the electricity that it has promising that it would," says James-Brent Styan, author of Blackout: The Eskom Crisis.

"That's not providing the relief to a grid that's in excess of 40-years-old," he adds. Added to this is the power utility's dire financial state.

"The debt is unsustainable and they can only continue operations by regular equity injections, bailouts by the shareholder, they are technically insolvent because their operations cannot service their costs including their cost of debt," says energy analyst, Chris Yelland.

To put it into perspective, since 2008, South African Airways' financial blackhole has amounted to R32-billion.

Last year alone, Eskom made a net loss of about R20-billion.

Light at the end of the tunnel might come from Independent Power Producers (IPP).

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Nersa licensing exemptions for new generation projects of up to 100-megawatts.

Even if the IPPs come online, this does not solve the challenges at Eskom. Professor Sampson Mamphweli says government should establish an Energy Command Council with experts from universities and the private sector.

In the meantime, South Africans should wrap up warmly, take out the candles and put fuel in their generators. Or, take the costly route and go off the grid.

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