South Africans have faced a grim year, enduring a record-breaking 332 days of load shedding in 2023, signalling a severe escalation in the country's power supply crisis.
The figures, compiled by EskomSePush and The Outlier, show an alarming increase from the 205 days in 2022 and reflect deep-rooted issues within Eskom, the state-owned power utility.
Put differently, South Africans had only 13 days this year where there was no load shedding, one day in March, 11 days in October and one day so far in December.
This year has also seen a record number of days of Stage 6 load shedding - with 74 days, highlighting an urgent need for effective crisis management and long-term sustainable solutions.
The situation worsened significantly as Eskom's power generation units struggled with frequent breakdowns and an inability to meet the nation's electricity demands.
A ramp up in Stage 6 load shedding this year attributed to the loss of generating units and a dire need to replenish depleted emergency reserves.
The inefficiency of key power stations, including Matimba, Majuba, Medupi, and Kusile, which use dry cooling systems, has further compounded the problem.
These stations are susceptible to temperature variations, leading to reduced power output during high temperatures.
Earlier this month, a heatwave that hit parts of the country was blamed for the higher stages of load shedding which Eskom said was caused by affluent South Africans turning on their air conditioners.
Minister for Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has, however, admitted to Eskom's failure in effectively managing the situation, stating that the utility had "dropped the ball" in preventing the dramatic increase in breakdowns.
This crisis not only represents a significant challenge to the daily lives of South Africans, but also poses a substantial threat to the economic stability of the nation.
Corruption coupled with criminal elements that have seeped into the power utility has added to South Africa’s woes.
Speaking on Sunday at the pre festive season media briefing, Police Minister, Bheki Cele said the government was not backing down in the fight against “those who want to destabilize the country’s energy supply”.
Cele said NatJoints energy safety and security work stream that was established to tackle crime and corruption related matters hampering the mandate of Eskom, had made commendable progress.
“The work stream activities has led to significant successes but more importantly has impacted positively on load shedding that can be attributed to theft and provision of sub-standard coal and the tampering of critical infrastructure,” Cele said.
Amongst the successes achieved by the work stream include the arrest of 207 suspects from April this year and the closure of 63 unregulated coal yards.
Mining equipment worth R180 million as well as R12 million worth of coal has been seized.
Two key preservation orders were secured amounting to R198 million and R1.5 billion respectively.
In October 2023, a massive inter-governmental search and seizure operation led by this priority committee was conducted in five provinces.
“The target was a sophisticated criminal syndicate of alleged coal smugglers who played a major role in exacerbating the energy crisis and load shedding,” Cele pointed out.
“SARS was the lead agency in this operation and the targets included former Eskom employees who facilitated procurement fraud, as well as individuals involved in the diversion of high-grade coal.
“This syndicate, which consists of local and foreign nationals, was found to be non-compliant with tax acts. The syndicate was found to have cost R500 million of revenue loss to the fiscus for non-registration for income, failure to submit tax returns, under-declaration of income and making false submissions to SARS,” Cele added.
With this in mind, observers say the urgent need for a strategic review of Eskom's management approach and the exploration of alternative energy sources has never been more critical.
Despite the ever presence of sunshine and wind, only 8% of South Africa’s power comes from renewables compared to a global average of 29%. Brazil generates 77% of its power from clean energy.
There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel.
James Mackay, CEO at Energy Council of South Africa, speaking at the Investec self-generation event earlier this year said that the end of load shedding was in sight.
“The reality is that we are in a structural Stage 4 to 6 for the rest of this year, so 2023 will be our toughest year. We have roughly 47.5 gigawatts of capacity; the Energy Availability Factor bottomed in March/April this year at 51% but has made a bit of recovery to 53%,” he said.
Mackay, projecting that load shedding could end next year or at the very latest in 2025 added: “We are also expecting accelerated public procurement bid windows. When adding up all these opportunities, we’re looking at up to 9GW of power opportunity that can be targeted over the next 18 to 24 months. That could end load shedding”.
As Eskom updates its load shedding schedules to accommodate stages beyond Stage 8, the reality of the situation becomes starkly clear - immediate action and innovative solutions are imperative to navigate South Africa out of this dark period.