The once electricity-rich nation of South Africa is suffering its worst year of power outages yet, as the country plunges into its deepest energy crisis ever, with state utility Eskom declaring “Stage 6” load-shedding this week.
According to Ferial Haffajee of the Daily Maverick, South Africa has suffered nationwide power outages for roughly 100 out of the 260 days of the year thus far, nearly 40% of the calendar year, making 2022 the worst year for power outages.
Just before 4 am on Sunday, 18 September, Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s phone rang. It was his COO Jan Oberholzer warning that red lights were flashing across the power grid and that diesel reserves that keep emergency power going were running lower at Ankerlig, one of two gas turbine power plants keeping the lights on as the coal-fired fleet is in its death throes.
They pressed the button on Stage 6 (switching off or load shedding 6000 MW of electricity). So South Africans woke up to advanced power cuts that can see you lose grid electricity three times a day and more often in parts of Johannesburg where the lights go out for longer blocks of time. (Cape Town has to date generally experienced less severe cuts because of the Steenbras Dam hydro-energy facility but is also now on Stage 6.)
The [opposition] DA [Democratic Alliance] has said President Cyril Ramaphosa should cut short his trip to the US and Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday to lead South Africa through its umpteenth power crisis. In September 2015, Ramaphosa (then deputy president) said it would take 18 months and two years for the country to deal with its energy crisis.
Load-shedding means that electricity will be unavailable except to those wealthy enough to afford diesel generators or alternative energy sources such as solar power. The price of diesel, like the price of other fuels, has soared on worldwide markets in recent months, making the cost of load-shedding ever greater. Moreover, the constant switching on and off of power causes wear and tear on energy infrastructure to accelerate, making the crisis worse. And consumers who have crucial appliances plugged in when the power comes back on — such as mobile phones — often see those devices destroyed by power surges.