Recommendations to address the generation capacity “crisis” in SA

December 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize


The 2014 electricity blackouts in have brought into stark relief the failure by government, the Department of Energy, the Department of Public Enterprises, Eskom and municipalities to provide an adequate and sustainable electricity supply to meet the growing needs of the country, the economy and its people.


The 1998 Government White Paper on Energy Policy was indeed a far-sighted document in respect of its recommendations for the liberalisation of the electricity sector.

But perhaps it was too far-sighted in view of the prevailing political and ideological realities of the times, because these official government policies have never been implemented.

However, the hard experiences learned by following government and Eskom’s central command and control approach, and the resulting blackouts of 2008 and 2014, requires that the recommendations of the 1998 Government White Paper on Energy Policy be revisited.

The detailed planning done in the national integrated resource plan for electricity, IRP 2010-2030, should also be revisited in light of the significantly changed underlying economic growth, energy intensity and electricity demand assumptions during the first four years of the plan.

Proper attention should be given to the 2013 IRP Update, which takes into account the realities of the first years of the 20-year plan, and the associated impact these realities have on demand projections and generation capacity requirement to 2030.

These recommendations by energy professionals should not simply be ignored by government as it presses ahead with the outdated IRP 2010-2030 plan, regardless of these realities. Otherwise we will face expensive and damaging consequences in the years ahead, as we did by ignoring critical recommendations in the 1998 Government White Paper on Energy Policy.

The recommendations given below focus on unlocking the significant unfulfilled potential of the electricity generation sector. Issues relating to the sub-optimal electricity distribution sector are not considered.

Some of the recommendations are targeted at Eskom itself, while others involve industry-level actions. Some are short-term in nature, while others are medium and even longer term actions, and the recommendations are given in no specific order of merit, as follows:

  1. Stop further increases in unplanned generator outages in their tracks by increased, better planned and better resourced maintenance outages, even if this means more load-shedding at domestic level in the short term.
  2. Increase the efficiency and reduce the time taken for planned generation outages, by closer involvement of the original equipment manufacturers, even if this increases the cost of the maintenance.
  3.  Systematically work towards reducing the generation maintenance backlog so as to begin to reduce the current unacceptable level of unplanned breakdowns, even if this means more load-shedding at domestic level in the short term.
  4. Press on aggressively with the Medupi and Kusile new-build projects to bring these on-stream without any further delays.
  5. Promulgate the Independent System and Market Operator Bill without any further delay, and remove all unnecessary barriers to entry for independent power producers of all technologies, including coal, gas, hydro, wind, solar photo-voltaic, concentrating solar power, biomass, biogas, etc.
  6. Remove all unnecessary barriers to entry for industrial, commercial and domestic co-generation, including rooftop solar photo-voltaic, biomass, biogas, waste gas, waste energy recovery, waste heat recovery, generation from discard coal, etc.
  7. Remove all unnecessary barriers to access to the transmission grid, including barriers to wheeling of power across the grid by independent power producers and large electricity users.
  8. Proceed with the renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme on an expedited basis.
  9. Require Eskom to purchase imported liquefied natural gas for its open-cycle gas turbines in the Western Cape, as well as the Department of Energy open-cycle gas turbines in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, and convert these facilities to combined-cycle gas turbines as soon as possible.
  10. Facilitate the private sector in building offshore liquefied natural gas terminals, gasification plants, transmission and distribution pipelines in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape, to enable a new gas-power industry.
  11. Facilitate further independent power producers and/or Eskom combined-cycle gas turbines in the Gauteng area, and facilitate the private sector in building further gas transmission and distribution pipelines and compressor stations for imported compressed natural gas from Mozambique to Gauteng.
  12. Proceed with private sector exploration of South Africa’s shale gas reserves, with a view to exploiting commercially viable shale gas reserves in the future.
  13. Initiate and drive a national campaign by politicians, officials, Eskom, municipalities, police, justice and correctional services to reduce electricity theft and non-payment. If non-technical losses can be halved, this will save 1000 to 1500 MW demand at peak periods.
  14. Introduce domestic time-of-use tariffs to incentivise and penalise users to encourage them to change consumption patterns to reduce morning and evening peaks.
  15. Introduce ripple control receivers nationally as mature, low-cost, proven technology to control electric geysers and swimming pool pumps.
  16. Introduce a national campaign of power factor correction by Eskom, municipalities, industrial and commercial uses, and through electricity tariffs, to improve the national power factor, and so reduce the national MVA maximum demand, and reduce generator, transformer, cable and line loading and losses.
  17. Proceed with aggressive industrial, commercial and domestic energy efficiency and integrated demand management programmes, including the mass roll-out of solar hot water geysers.
  18. Aggressively continue with the diversification of primary energy sources away from the current over-dependence on coal, towards a balanced primary energy mix including coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, pumped water storage, wind, solar photo-voltaic, concentrating solar power, nuclear, etc.
  19. Facilitate and expand regional energy integration through energy and power projects and transmission grid infrastructure in DRC, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa.
  20. Raise capital and improve Eskom’s balance sheet by selling identified power station assets and listing Eskom as a public company on the stock exchange.
  21. Increase diversity in the generation sector away from Eskom as a vertically integrated monopoly supplier, through unbundling of Eskom generation and the introduction of independent power producers, municipal generators, foreign energy investors and imported hydro power.

What gives hope in this mess of unfulfilled expectations is that there is still so much to be done that has been neglected by the myopic and closed-minded attitudes within government, the Department of Energy, the Department of Public Enterprises, Eskom and municipalities.

South Africa is rich in energy resources, both natural energy and human energy. We do not have an energy crisis in South Africa. What we have experienced instead is a serious management failure.

  • David Robert Lewis

    Nah, don’t bring Medupi and Kusile on line, realise that if we do, we are going to get freakish weather events, as the Southern Ocean continues to heat up. Already one degree warmer than it used to be, the results quite evident in the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf. If the warming continues, expect major changes in ocean thermal currents. Workers already know this and eco-sabotage of the coal industry is continuing apace. Instead of fossil fuel, utilise thermal differences in temperature to generate ocean energy.

    Unite Against Cable Theft is a awareness of
    the issues that relate to cable theft and illegal connections. This is a
    world wide problem.This is become part of the whole problem that is one of the contributions to the crises we have to deal with every day.

    If we keep this awareness going we might get support from the needed role players to unite against the one contributor to a ongoing load shedding issue.We did manage to get the Regional Electrical Safety Forum back and we have the Department of Labour support all we now need to do is keep the control and support of the RESF going.

    2nd Annual Cable Anti-Theft Technologies Summit coming up….
    24 & 25 FEBRUARY 2015

    Please support this drive

  • A valuable set of proposals, but there seem a few reservations.
    1. Many are seemingly self-evident, but to amount to “preaching to the converted”. Will those who need to implement them take any notice?
    2. Most are medium-to-long-term proposals, and will do little to solve the immediate problems. The proposals to expedite the commissioning of Medupi and Kusile hold a risk of encouraging “corner-cutting” by shortening test and verification of the plant, to save some time. This would be little different from the reported past postponements in routine maintenance of existing plant to satisfy some or other short-term political goal.
    3. A serious problem appears to be a progressive de-skilling in Eskom, at levels ranging from routine maintenance, up to design engineering and project management. It must be asked if there is the requisite political will to address this problem. It will be necessary to look at the issues resulting from retirements and semi-forced emigration of the staff involved. Training up new staff is a very long-term process. (Bear in mind that a staff appointment as a junior Engineering Manager is the culmination of a process of around 10 years – maybe longer – post-matric.)
    4. The issue of permitting small-scale consumers to feed locally-generated solar energy into the power grid seems to hold problems at a technical level of system stability (particularly under fault-conditions) that many local distribution authorities are ill-equipped to handle.

    • Jeremy Lansman

      Tony. Your 4th point only becomes an issue when power fed into the grid (grid tie) reaches a level that could destabilize control. Meanwhile, as at this time, a lot of people are thinking about some sort of alternative to Eskom, I suggest stimulating purchase of alternative energy equipment by 1) setting safe levels of grid tie for grid segments, 2) For at least a few years, eliminate import duty, VAT and give income tax credits on sales and installation of grid tie equipment sourced by solar, wind, picohydro, and LED lighting so long as at that location the segment is within safe limits, 3) power meters will be allowed to spin backwards with payment to customers that feed in more than they drain, 4) government to match a percentage, lets say 20%, toward manufacture of the above within SA. I also believe a rush to design equipment to be used to set up a smart grid should get rush treatment. Sending signals over the power lines, via radio, and data streams over DTT TV transmitters can be used to turn off some equipment in customers locations and modify grid settings, or control for load peak load shaving. Inexpensive devices can be made which turn off some lighting or other loads in retail stores loads in peak periods, and the devices should contain modules allowing reporting of voltage and current flow back to a central location.

      Probably nothing can prevent load shedding short term. But the suggestions posted in the article and above can help move the needle out of the red more quickly.

      • Jeremy, I think my point 4 contains some matters calling for very careful consideration. After a power-cut, there is a risk that the local source will continue to feed into the grid, forming a “power island”. It may then trip out on overload, but this is uncertain. If the power-cut was for maintenance work, this continuing supply would create a danger to the maintenance workers. If the main connection were later restored with the island still active, there would be a need for re-synchronisation to avoid a potentially disastrous power surge.
        Of all the remote-control options (which are numerous), it would be essential to standardise on one, and to enforce compliance on the individual DIY “self-generators”. There then remains the difficulty (cost…) of arranging for the supply authority to make the necessary additions to their own systems.
        The older electromechanical (rotating disc) meters had no problem with reverse-power registration. Newer electronic-based units will possibly need to catch up!

        • Jeremy Lansman
          • Jeremy, Thanks for the link. How far is the USA thinking it describes in line with the “thinking” (I use that expression loosely!) of local authorities? I also note that it expresses doubt that the quoted USA specs are stringent enough. Once again, I think there is still a big gap (probably more than one!) to be filled before we see such schemes running here. Not the least is the attitude of SA regulatory authorities to a spec that is NIH (“Not Invented Here”).

          • Jeremy Lansman

            Hello there Tony. I really did laugh out loud. When it comes to government being rational, I never expect much, but hope and meeting with officials can make a big difference. After all, people in government probably did not get there doing electrical, or engineering stuff. If you want to see changes, you have to help them understand. A few actually listen.

            In the USA, electrical standards are usually published in the NEC. See this, which explains how the rules are formed and adopted: I know grid tie systems are also used in Europe, but have not spent Google time on that. I would look at Germany first. I recall years ago a product called Whispergen. They would not sell to me when I lived in Alaska, but I believe it is a grid tie dishwasher sized unit that provides cogeneration capability (heat and electricity) to residential users. It looks to be a very nice piece of technology where natural gas is used for heating.

            What I do know is the needed solid state circuitry is common. A UPS often has line frequency and voltage sensing to determine when to switch to battery, and some units will sync to power line phase at cut over. Makes the transition more gentle for your UPS protected equipment. I have used that sort of UPS on motor based equipment.

            Finally, I should add that I have read that grid tie solar is common in some areas of the USA. I have looked at stuff on Ebay, thinking about buying. But regulators have to approve rates and terms for spinning meters in reverse before grid tie is legal.

          • Jeremy, the problem is almost totally administrative, not technical. The necessary hardware is almost certainly obtainable. The only significant problem there is to enforce its correct usage.
            The IEEE and UL specs mentioned are not enforceable in SA. For that to happen, it would be necessary for them to be rewritten and published by an international committee of the ISO. Thereafter, the SABS would need to review them and republish them, with or without alterations. Are we looking at three years or five, or perhaps longer? After that, the local authorities could start to get their minds around enforcing them.
            A further point is that most, if not all municipalities use electricity supply as a cash-cow to subsidise other services (much as with speeding fines). To start creating feed-in tariffs would need a complete re-jig of municipal accounting. It has been noted elsewhere that Cape Town and Durban, among others, were violently opposed to Eskom’s scheme of subsidised solar water heaters.

          • Jeremy Lansman

            Tony. Thank you for educating me. I appreciate it. I have not yet dug into municipal power distribution. I have learned about Eskom, as (I claim) due to their negligence they have blown up our and their equipment. It is still something to be settled. Getting their attention is just about impossible. That aside… In an ideal world a government facing an emergency, as Eskom represents, would immediately have meetings and hold hearings then write laws to work out these problems. I have seen some of the SABS docs. I have also seen an Eskom document having conditions and rates for wheeling power over their network. Which is to say, it allows you to produce power, send/sell it to another party. I could probably find it and post a link here, but it really matters little unless we as individuals are going to do something. I would only work on something like this if asked, which I have not been. I am not an SA citizen. So for now, I feel free to offer some suggestions in forums like this.

    • Hi Tony
      1. Agreed but need to make constructive proposals loud and clear. I believe senior Eskom execs have seen the proposals and that the will reach the “War Room”
      2. Agreed, short cuts must be avoided, but Medupi and Kusile must proceed as fast as possible to completion.
      3. Agreed.
      4. I would think that with effort such matters can be overcome.
      Thanks for the constructive comments.

      • Chris, there was recently a report that all was not going well with testing of the Medupi boilers: the steam supply was inadequate, and the steam purity was unacceptable. Do you have any further info on this?

  • Martin Hatchuel

    Who is the author of this article? I would like to quote from it for an article I’m writing. Please contact me: martinhatchuel at Thanks.

    • As stated in the article, the author is myself, Chris Yelland CEng, managing director and investigative editor at EE Publishers.

      • Martin Hatchuel

        How stupid of me – I swear I read it through twice, and didn’t see your name. But of course it is there. Sorry!. Please mail your address so that I can share mine when it’s done. Thanks – M

        martinhatchuel at

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