Stage 6 load shedding: ‘the lights won’t stay on, because we’ve run out of money’

Sindisiwe Mchunu, struggles finding a book while doing her report in the dark at home in Ormonde as load shedding hits some parts of Joburg South in this file picture. l BONGIWE MCHUNU/ANA

Sindisiwe Mchunu, struggles finding a book while doing her report in the dark at home in Ormonde as load shedding hits some parts of Joburg South in this file picture. l BONGIWE MCHUNU/ANA

Published Sep 7, 2023


South Africa’s return to Stage 6 load shedding after weeks of relative stability has once again spotlighted the deep-rooted issues within the nation's energy infrastructure.

The recent surge in load shedding is attributed to a combination of increased planned maintenance, unplanned outages at coal power stations, and heightened user demand.

Matthew Cruise, the head of public relations at Hohm Energy, in an interview with IOL News, said: “The return to Stage 6 load shedding is indicative of the systemic issues plaguing our energy infrastructure. It's a wake-up call that temporary fixes are not a long-term solution.”

He further highlighted the Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa's confirmation that the lack of maintenance at Eskom’s generating units was causing significant grid failure.

Asked about his thoughts on how South Africa would keep the lights on by burning millions of rands in diesel every day, in light of reports that there was a budget deficit of R143.8 billion for July – the most significant since 2004 – Cruise said: “The short answer is that the lights will not stay on, as we have run out of money to continue burning diesel at the rate that we have.”

In addition to being financially unsustainable, the government's strategy of burning diesel to keep the lights on was harmful to the environment, Cruise said.

“The government burning diesel to keep the lights on is like using a band-aid for a wound that requires surgery,” Cruise remarked.

With the recent 18% increase in diesel prices, businesses and households relying on generators are grappling with the dual challenges of Stage 6 load shedding and soaring diesel costs.

Furthermore, the CSIR revealed that South Africa had utilised diesel generators five times more this winter compared to the previous year.

This has accelerated wear and tear on Eskom's open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs), potentially compromising their future performance during peak demand periods.

Eskom’s challenges are manifold.

From ageing infrastructure and financial instability to a lack of investment in renewables and systemic corruption, the power utility is under immense strain.

The Zondo commission revelations and Andre De Ruyter’s book have further spotlighted allegations of corruption within the entity.

The path to renewable energy, which could offer a solution to the nation’s energy woes, is fraught with barriers.

Cruise identified regulatory complexity, high initial capital costs, a lack of public awareness, and an ill-equipped grid as the primary obstacles.

"Many people are not fully aware of the financial benefits of solar and the ability to subscribe to solar, which is made possible through Hohm Energy," he added.

To incentivise the private sector's investment in renewable energy, Cruise suggests that the government should offer meaningful feed-in tariff rates, enhance tax incentives, and streamline regulatory processes.

“What's stalling the process appears to be a lack of political will, influenced in part by vested interests in fossil fuels, as well as bureaucratic inefficiencies,” he noted.

The continued reliance on burning billions of rand worth of fuel annually is neither economically nor environmentally viable.

Cruise emphasised the potential of renewable energy solutions.