/ 31 May 2023

Tone-deaf Ramaphosa says citizens must help ease load-shedding

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images

South Africans must play their part to reduce load-shedding as temperatures drop, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.

His renewed call to load-shedding fatigued citizens — who have experienced power cuts every day this year — comes as the country ping-pongs between stages four and six of the scheduled blackouts.

It also comes as the cost of running embattled power utility Eskom’s diesel-powered units has more than doubled, as revealed by the treasury on Tuesday. Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana also said the state-owned-entity was on course to post a loss of R21.2 billion. This was despite a hefty 9.6% tariff increase being approved by the national energy regulator and a treasury bailout of R21.9 billion.

The South African Reserve Bank has estimated that stage six load-shedding costs the country R900 million a day and the National Rationalised Specifications Association of South Africa is finalising revisions of the country’s load-shedding guidelines to allow for scheduling beyond stage eight.  

Ramaphosa told the National Assembly that South Africa was facing “a difficult winter ahead”. He was speaking during the opening of the 2023/24 presidency budget vote debate.

Electricity demand had increased as the colder weather set in and several units at Medupi, Kusile and Koeberg power stations remained offline due to repairs, he said.   

“These six units alone represent approximately 4 500 megawatts of capacity or between four and five stages of load-shedding. The situation will improve as we return these units to service towards the end of this year.  

“Until then, our best hope of limiting the severity of load-shedding is to reduce demand on the grid.”

The president said that tax incentives had been introduced to support the rollout of rooftop solar for households, as per his State of the Nation Address, and that just as citizens had “come together” to stop the spread of Covid-19, “we must all act now to bring down demand over the winter months”.  

“We can all make a difference by switching off lights and appliances when not in use; reducing the temperature setting on geysers to 60 degrees; installing a geyser blanket or geyser timer to save energy and reduce your electricity bill and turning off unnecessary equipment like pool pumps.”

These “simple actions” could reduce demand by up to 1 000MW or one full stage of load-shedding, he said.

Grid collapse   

As Eskom has done, Ramaphosa dismissed the possibility — but not outright — of a total grid collapse. The risk was “extremely low”, he said, adding that there were safeguards in place to prevent this happening.  

The government was working “urgently” to resolve the country’s electricity shortfall, he said, but this did not diminish its commitment to a just energy transition.

“We will stick to our commitment to reduce our carbon emissions by 2030 to within a target range which, at its upper level, is compatible with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5ºC.  

“We need to do this to prevent the worst effects of climate change, including illness, droughts, floods and other disasters. We also need to protect jobs in sectors of our economy that have to decarbonise to remain globally competitive.”

He said that any decisions — if necessary — to temporarily delay the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations to address electricity supply shortfall would be informed by “a detailed technical assessment of the feasibility of continuing to operate older plants and the cost of doing so relative to alternative energy sources”.  

“It will also be informed by the timeframe in which we can expect new generation capacity and the impact on our decarbonisation trajectory.  At the same time, we will further accelerate the pace of investment in new renewable electricity generation as an important part of the plan to overcome load-shedding.”  

In March, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala said that since 2019, the government had spent R2 million on procuring and installing alternative power supply systems for the homes of ministers, while the total for procuring and installing alternative power supply for deputy ministers amounted to R5 040 000. 

Zikalala was responding to a question from Democratic Alliance MP, Leon Schreiber.