/ 12 May 2023

Powerships for South Africa’s energy future

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Tank pipework onboard the Karmol LNGT Powership Asia floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU), operated by Karpowership, viewed from the ship's bridge whilst docked at Cape Town port in Cape Town, South Africa. Photographer: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Electricity minister Kgosientso Ramokgopa believes that powerships — special purpose ships on which a power plant is installed to serve as a energy generation resource — will be the solution to alleviate the energy shortage in the country.

Ramokgopa was addressing the media on the energy action plan update on Friday where he announced that the utility was looking at powerships to alleviate load-shedding.

Eskom has not been able to keep the lights on, with a constant stage six load-shedding schedule. To keep the grid from collapsing, it has been burning more diesel which Ramokgopa acknowledged was costly.

Ramokgopa said although the country was looking at emergency procurement, they were not looking at options that could add much-needed energy to the grid quickly.

He added that they were looking at affordable options and would take anything that costs less than diesel.

“Anything cheaper than diesel is the best option for Eskom. Emergency procurement should be three to five years,” he said.


Ramokgopa was affirming President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent sentiments in parliament, signalling his support for the Karpowership emergency power deal, saying that was “the way to go right now to add those megawatts”.

Karpowership is a Turkish company seeking to supply 1 220 megawatts of electricity to South Africa. However, its environmental application to moor a ship-mounted power plant at the port of Saldanha Bay was suspended after allegations that the views of small-scale fisheries were misrepresented. 

Ramaphosa first touted getting emergency power from powerships in the government’s energy crisis plan last July.

He said that while the plan was welcomed “by all”, the government did not anticipate that the performance of Eskom’s coal fleet power stations would continue to drop. 

The Turkish company, which runs powerships off Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ghana and elsewhere, clinched a 20-year deal following the department of mineral resources and energy’s December 2019 call for 2 000 megawatts of emergency power.

“What South Africa needs right now is emergency energy… Other countries have done so. And I have been to a few countries on our continent that have brought in ships that are able to generate energy and immediately solved their energy problems and challenges.

I believe that that is the way to go right now, to add those megawatts that we don’t have,” Ramaphosa said.

In April 2022, lobby group Outa took legal action against the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) for granting three licences it argued were not in South Africa’s interest.

Failed environmental authorisation

Karpowership’s environmental authorisation for the project was first denied in June, with the rejection of the latest appeal being made public on 1 August.  

Minister of forestry fisheries and the environment Barabara Creecy said that the powerships, which fall under the Karadeniz Energy Group, could not override constitutional and environmental laws, which state that each person has a right to clean and healthy air and water, and to the protection of the other natural resources of the nation. 

But, last week, the company received a lifeline after Creecy gave it another chance to resubmit its environmental assessment. 

This was welcomed by Ramokgopa on Friday who labelled the action as the way forward.

Ramokgopa, says the improvement of the energy availability factor (EAF) is crucial to the resolution of the electricity crisis facing the country.

Eskom’s low EAF at power stations has dogged the power utility’s ability to generate enough capacity to provide for usage during peak hours in the country, and improving the EAF is one of the key pillars of the energy plan.

The Minister said the government, working with Eskom, has already put several plans in place and is working towards increasing the EAF including opening the market to powerships.

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa