Load shedding has many South Africans turning to other sources of power. Picture: Karen Sandison African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - THE demand for alternative sources of energy has soared in the wake of prolonged and frequent blackouts due to Eskom’s nationwide load shedding.

Eskom introduced stage 4 load shedding as it experienced diesel supply shortages, boiler-tube leaks and a cut in electricity supply from Mozambique after power lines were damaged by Cyclone Idai.

The most recent spate of blackouts have seen interruptions to electricity in some areas of the country for up to 12 hours a day, impacting on businesses and households, which have also exacerbated the challenges being faced in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

This follows the reduction of power generation at Lake Kariba due to declining water levels as a result of below normal rains.

According to a statement by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), the authority jointly constituted by Zambia and Zimbabwe: “The lake level is five metres above the minimum operating level when it should be eight (metres) above the minimum operating level at this time of the year.”

As a result, water allocated for power generation at Kariba has been reduced from 38 billion cubic metres to 36 billion cubic metres for 2019.

Meanwhile, suppliers of generators, solar panels and batteries in Cape Town and Somerset West said they had received inquiries and sold many devices since the start of the load shedding.

Spokesperson for OneEnergy Gregory Tosi said the uptake in alternative energy sources had generally been good but had shot up remarkably since the start of load shedding.

“Although we have not run out of supplies, we will now have to import more to meet the demand,” Tosi said.

The company supplies residential and commercial needs, and according to Tosi, demand has been expressed by all the segments.

A company that manufactures and supplies diesel generators in the northern suburb of Brackenfell, also confirmed that as a result of the demand, its plant was having to work extra hours to produce more.

“We’ve experienced a sudden increase in demand. It’s like a waterfall. We’re struggling to keep up and are putting in extra hours at the plant to produce more,” a salesperson said.

Energy expert Chris Yelland has called on the government to urgently look at diversifying its energy options.

Yelland said while the causes of load shedding were being resolved, the country was likely to experience patches of load shedding for another six months, treading a thin line between supply and demand.

Stocks of diesel have arrived at some major harbours and one of the power lines from Mozambique is up and running, delivering 900 megawatts on the national grid while repair work on the boiler-tubes is under way.

“I believe we will get a handle on the problems, we will cross the line but we need to learn a lesson - to manage the risk of plunging the country into darkness we cannot put all our eggs in one basket - we need to diversify our energy sources,” Yelland said.

Eskom has monopoly over power generation and distribution in South Africa, with 95% of electricity coming from the power utility and only 5% from independent power producers.

The government has been slow in bringing about an integrated resource plan to guide the country on how to procure new generation sources.

The last plan was revised and adopted in 2011, and although it has to be revised after two years, this has not happened, with dates to do so being pushed further and further back.

It is unlikely that the plan will be brought before Parliament before the May 8 elections.

“This is holding the country back in terms of energy procurement - we do not have a plan at the moment,” Yelland added.

A Durbanville resident, Hugo Potgieter, who opted to go off-grid in 2015, was spared the inconvenience caused by the power outages.

After installing solar panels, Potgieter increased the energy generation capacity by installing small wind turbines and a generator.

“It was essential to ensure energy security and efficiency so I had to look at installing more components. Although it is costly, it is worth it in the long run,” he said.

The leader of the Good party noted that every day, ordinary South Africans paid the cost of “Eskom’s bumbling”, mismanagement and corruption.

“Eskom has been a disgrace since its establishment 96 years ago as a white economic empowerment enterprise to facilitate the industrial and domestic aspirations of the then-racist state. It is time for South Africans to turn their backs on this company, “ said Patricia de Lille.

She said while the rich had the option of installing generators and alternative power systems, poorer South Africans did not, and her party would work with municipalities and provincial governments that “had not been captured by the ANC” to implement policies to subsidise the costs of installing photovoltaic (solar) panels and inverters for all domestic users as a first step to the mass migration of domestic users from the national electricity grid.

Many Cape residents expressed anger at the impact of the power outages as some recorded incidents of crime in their areas.

A spokesperson for STOP CoCT, Sandra Dickson, said residents shared some of their experiences on the organisation’s social platform.

“We had reports of an increase in gunshots in especially Lentegeur where a child was shot during a period of load shedding during this week.

“The internet connection of all the service providers drops - and at best one gets the Edge service which cannot sustain the internet,” Dickson said.

There were also reports of people’s appliances breaking down.

“The people and businesses that can afford load shedding buy batteries, solar panels and generators and keep their essential appliances going. Sadly, the poor and the middle working class cannot afford this and have to endure the load shedding hours without electricity and put up with rotten food and appliances breaking down.”

Additional reporting by African News Agency.

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