A decade of corruption, mismanagement, sabotage, poor power station designs, and a recent natural disaster has led to the implementation of more rolling blackouts in South Africa's energy sector.

At the end of 2018, Eskom admitted that they were unsure when the next break in transmission was going to be. Initially, they wanted to ensure that South Africans would not be in the dark during their Christmases.

During that time, an intensive investigation into the problems Eskom was experiencing was launched. They were looking for good, honest people with the right technical skills. They did not want Stage 2 load-shedding. However, three months later, the country would see an unprecedented Stage 4 load-shedding. For each customer, for an entire week, their electricity would be cut off twelve times, for two-and-a-half hours each time.

Eskom has 47,000 MW of installed capacity that is serving all South Africans. The current demand of South Africans at a theoretical peak during the summertime is 29,000MW. The demand Eskom is able to reach (with all of their problems considered) is about 26,000MW.

Eskom indicated that a contributing factor to their woes was the age of their plants was a massive problem, too. Monetary investment into the maintenance of the plants in the last few years, but they allege that the repairs were not done adequately.

Eskom is hoping to find the relevant skilled individuals who can quickly meet the requirements of the state-owned enterprise. They need the right people to take a look at their problems and suggest implementable solutions.

So, how can freshly qualified engineers or even students help solve the problem?

 

Managers, students, professionals

It is imperative that all professionals and future professionals in the electrical engineering industry in South Africa keep upskilling within the industry. They never know when a state-owned electricity utility could be knocking on their door and asking them to save the day.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan at a press conference on the 6th of December 2018 said:

“We are going to find independent experts, a few of them, so that they could take an arm lengths view of these plans and the nature of the problems, and the nature of the solutions we have prescribed.”

Gordhan said in December that Eskom was in crisis mode. He said they would look within the company to find capable individuals to become power station managers to ensure power stations ran at an optimal level with zero incompetence.

After looking inward, they began looking outward as well. At the beginning of 2019, Eskom began asking top engineers from Italian energy company Enel to assist with Eskom's maintenance issues.

Chairperson on the board of Eskom, Jabu Mabuza said:

“This cannot be solved by Eskom alone. These are problems that we have all caused as South Africans. Either through our people, or through our government, but these are problems that we have caused. So, there is a role that we all have to play - shareholders, providers of capital, staff, customers - this is a choice of pain we need to take going forward, to try and put us back into a sustainable way.”

The company has approached the Auditor-General and the National Treasury to secure a special procurement dispensation to pay professionals for their assistance with their services and expertise. They are hoping that these companies and the ultimately skilled individuals might help keep the lights on. 

Gordhan also mentioned to media recently that they were head-hunting at universities for students who could take a look at the power stations and provide feedback and suggestions for how Eskom might better run them.

What is also clear is that the stage is set for more Independent Power Producers to flood into the energy industry in South Africa. There is also a US $310 million government fund ready to invest into small scale embedded generation (SSEG) projects which will also create new jobs for highly technically qualified engineering professionals and workers, but the fund has been held back because of regulatory constraints.

There are also regulations preventing individual municipalities in the country from generating their own electricity. The state-owned utility has taken that entire job on its own shoulders. Opening up the regulations allows for municipalities to hire professionals to build a brand new, unique grid and would lead to far more citizens getting access to electricity - perhaps some for the first time.

The result could see engineering professionals getting jobs in general and renewable energy projects the country desperately needs to keep the lights on and to circumnavigate load shedding on already aged infrastructure. It could take many homes, businesses, warehouses, factories, mines, and farms off of the national grid and reallocate the electricity for areas that are in desperate need of it.

As a result, South Africa’s electricity problems also present the country with opportunities. As the country draws closer to their next election, electricity (and the lack of it) will be something the voters might have at the back of their minds as they cast their vote.

 

Works Cited

6 Quick Fixes That Can Save South Africa from More Load Shedding, www.businessinsider.co.za/6-quick-fixes-that-can-save-south-africa-from-more-load-shedding-2019-3.

“Eskom, Gordhan Briefing on Operation Issues.” YouTube, 6 Dec. 2018, youtu.be/3KXg_o5Zth0.

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is dedicated to ensuring our students receive a world-class education and gain skills they can immediately implement in the workplace upon graduation. Our staff members uphold our ethos of honesty and integrity, and we stand by our word because it is our bond. Our students are also expected to carry this attitude throughout their time at our institute, and into their careers.