A quick explainer of South Africa’s energy crisis, in case you needed one.

Source: Nick Hedley

The power crisis has its roots in bad energy planning by the Mbeki administration in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Government was warned that electricity demand would catch up with supply by 2007, but it effectively ignored those warnings until it was far too late.


Eskom, the state monopoly, was the world’s top-rated utility in 2001. But by 2007, as predicted, the first instances of rolling blackouts (“load shedding”) arrived.

When Eskom was finally instructed to add new coal plants, the planning was rushed – with huge design flaws.

Combined with corruption, this means that the two new mega coal plants – Kusile and Medupi – are still under construction nearly two decades later. These projects have weighed heavily on South Africa’s public finances.

Load shedding is now worse than ever before.

Households and businesses endure up to 11.5 hours of power cuts a day, and there’s no end in sight.

The crisis is due to the failures at Kusile and Medupi and constant breakdowns at Eskom’s other coal-fired power plants, many of which are nearing their end of life and have not been maintained properly (by previous and current management).

The crisis could have been nipped in the bud, although former Eskom CEOs halted the government’s renewable energy procurement programme in 2015.

The current minister of energy, Gwede Mantashe, has revived the programme, but has been painfully slow and unambitious with his procurement rounds, which remain far too small.

Furthermore, the country is now encountering a shortage of grid capacity in key provinces.

…Once again, this comes down to a lack of planning and foresight.

The loadshedding crisis could become far worse, considering that seven of Eskom’s 15 coal-fired power plants reach their end of life this decade.

So, what can be done about load shedding?

While Mantashe will likely use the worsening crisis to push through an expensive deal with Turkey’s Karpowership, a number of cheaper and better solutions are available.

The country has largely run out of grid capacity in the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape, but there is still a significant amount of capacity in KZN and inland provinces – including in the coal belt.

The government could launch a large renewable energy procurement round specifically aimed at these provinces, including Mpumalanga.

Meanwhile, in “congested” provinces, Eskom could procure battery services – which can delay the need for new transmission infrastructure.

Battery storage can be used to delay investments in transmission infrastructure by allowing for the storage of excess energy generated by renewables during periods of low demand.

This stored energy can then be released during periods of high demand, reducing the need for additional transmission infrastructure.

The government could also take a leaf out of Vietnam’s playbook…

In 2020, when it was on the brink of its own energy crisis, Vietnam added 8.3GW of rooftop solar capacity in just SIX MONTHS.

The Vietnamese government offered incentives to households, including generous feed-in tariffs.