Govt outlines plans for power crisis

Switch off your lights is what the government is urging South Africans to do to immediately address what it calls a ”national electricity emergency”.

On Friday, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin and Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica outlined several plans to alleviate the country’s electricity shortage.

Asked what to tell South Africans about the electricity crisis, Erwin replied: ”Switch off your lights if you are not using them.”

Earlier, during a press conference at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Erwin said the government considered the national power cuts as a national emergency.

”It is clear that we are running our power system at utilisation levels that are overstretching maintenance and if we do not stabilise this we could drive our system into higher levels of stress … this we can not do,” he said.

”We are viewing the next two years as being critical. It is also critical to stress that the growth of South Africa’s economy at the current healthy levels can continue if we change our behaviour and become more energy efficient.”

Erwin added that the government had to share the blame for the current crisis, saying the country was becoming a victim of its own success with electricity demand growing faster than expected.

”The decision to charge Eskom with the responsibility to embark on a large and urgent build programme in 2004 was, in hindsight, late. The president has accepted that this government got its timing wrong,” he said.

At its Cabinet lekgotla (meeting) held in Pretoria this week, several proposals were put forward as part of an ”emergency campaign” to save the country’s critical power supply.

The government would implement an electricity-rationing programme as a ”quick-hit” solution to address the current power blackouts, said Sonjica.

”We have discussed how quotas will be allocated, who will be exempt from the programme, what incentives and penalties will be in place, when it will start and what legislative enablers we need to have in place for the programme to work,” Sonjica said.

When this rationing programme would be implemented was not clear. Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga said it might take ”weeks to months”.

A concept proposal on the rationing programme submitted to the Cabinet includes quota allocations for various electricity users, penalties and cut-offs, quota trading and flexibility of the programme.

It is designed to achieve the overall savings target of between 10% and 15% over time.

To have an immediate saving of 8%, industrial users would have to use 10% less electricity; commercial users 15% less; hotels, resorts, shopping malls and conference centres 20%;, large office buildings, the government and municipalities 15% less; agriculture 5% less; and residences 10%.

Penalties, which are yet to be determined, would be given for electricity use above the allocated quota and electricity supply to repeat offenders would be cut off.

An incentive scheme is being established for smaller consumers who exceed the savings targets, while large consumers could trade the unused portion of their quota allocations.

‘No threat’ to World Cup

Besides the rationing programme, Sonjica also outlined several other plans in the pipeline, such as replacing incandescent light in the country’s households with compact fluorescent lights, which government hoped would save 750MW by 2010.

Included in this plan was a free CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) exchange for poor households.

”In order to ensure that this roll-out is sustained, we intend to issue restrictions on the manufacturing of incandescent light bulbs,” Sonjica said.

A programme is already under way to install one million solar water heaters over the next three years, which will save about 650MW.

The government plans to implement ”smart metering” in residential areas, which will enable the municipalities and Eskom to remotely manage customer loads.

Other plans include converting traffic lights and public lights, switching from electricity to liquefied petroleum gas and to compel hospitals to use solar power for water heating.

Meanwhile, the government intended replacing electricity used for heating and cooking in households with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), Sonjica said.

This was expected to ease demand on the country’s electricity supply by about 500MW, she said.

Two problems facing the plan were obtaining supply and pricing. To overcome these the Minerals and Energy Department would issue concessions and suppliers would bid for them — in line with the Petroleum Products Amendment Act, said Sonjica.

”The opportunity to import the gas during supply shortages needs to be explored more because the gas is actually a by-product in the oil refining process and is readily available in the global market.”

Erwin said this would have to be done in a way that did not create problems elsewhere — by putting pressure on supplies of diesel and oil.

”We need to design it in a manner not to put pressure on other supply chains,” he said.

The priority, he said, was to ”urgently take demand out of the system”.

Erwin also said that South Africa’s power crisis poses no threat to its hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

”There is no threat to the successful holding of the event, as plans to ensure electricity security in that period are well advanced.”

Responding to a question, he said by 2010, Eskom would have ”reached … a far more comfortable margin” between electricity demand and supply. — Sapa

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