Why South Africa’s electricity blackouts are set to continue for the next five years

Hartmut Winkler, University of Johannesburg

South Africa is once more experiencing periodic power cuts. These typically take the form of scheduled supply interruptions, for two to four hours a day, whenever the country’s electricity system is overloaded. Such overloading currently happens on 40-50 days a year.

Eskom, the country’s power utility, recently admitted that such interruptions are likely to persist for as long as the next five years. This is because of the increased down-time of the rapidly ageing fleet of coal plants. But it is also due to delays in setting up new power plants.

The decreasing performance of the existing Eskom plants is evident in the steady decline of the energy availability factor. This is a measure of the percentage of total electricity generated compared to what would be achieved when every plant was functioning. The energy availability factor is currently at about 65%. This means that on average 35% of Eskom’s power plants are standing idle at any particular time due to faults or maintenance.

In his 2021 State of the Nation Address President Cyril Ramaphosa offered an action plan to develop additional power generation capacity in the short to medium term. While these interventions are indeed critical, they don’t go far enough to reach power stability.

Emergency power provision

The government has since announced eight successful bidders for gas, wind and solar projects under the 2,000 megawatt Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme. In theory, bidders are required to be able to generate electricity by August 2022. But given that solar and wind farms typically take two years to become operational, the stipulated roll-out time is too short. Most of these projects will only be supplying the grid in 2023.

The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme is a mechanism initiated 10 years ago under which private developers competitively bid for the rights to construct new electricity generating plants and then sell the electricity to Eskom at predetermined rates.

The programme successfully established South Africa’s renewable energy sector through three bid windows. But it stalled after 2015 when these new technologies began to threaten the interests of politically well connected interest groups in the coal and nuclear sectors. Projects for a fourth bid window finally received clearance in 2018 following the departure of former president Jacob Zuma, but enthusiasm for renewables has waned again under the current Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe.

The long awaited fifth round has just been announced after inexplicable delays. Prospective solar and wind farm developers have until August 2021 to submit bids for projects generating in total 1,600 MW of wind and 1,000 MW of solar capacity.

The successful bidders may be announced before the end of the year, but will need to demonstrate financial closure before starting to construct facilities. Renewable builds typically take about two years to complete. This means the round 5 projects are likely to come into operation only in 2024. That is two years later than set out by the 2019 national electricity plan.

The 2,600 MW added to the system in round 5 are with intermittent technologies. They only function when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. They will therefore only be adding, on average, slightly under 1,000 MW. That’s too little to overcome the existing power deficit.

Future procurement rounds

The last (2019) instalment of the South African Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity envisaged between 1,600 MW and 2,600 MW of renewable capacity added to the grid almost every year from 2022 to 2030. With the existing delay, the process to effect upcoming annual additions must be accelerated.

But an early catch-up is unlikely, because the minister only committed to one further renewables round, of the same scale, “within the next 12 months”. It’s therefore expected that future rounds will only happen annually, with no more that 2,600 MW being rolled out each time.

At that rate the wind and solar power contributions to South Africa’s electricity will remain below 10% of the national total for several more years. Renewables won’t make a decisive impact to alleviate the country’s power shortage for at least five years.

More gas, coal and nuclear?

In addition to the emergency and new renewable rounds, Minister Mantashe has also announced that procurement for 1,500 MW of new coal plants and 3,000 MW of gas plants will begin soon.

In view of their role in global warming, sentiment against new coal plants is now so strong that investment in such projects is extremely unlikely. Nuclear plants are not seen favourably globally either because of their high building costs and a reputation for severe construction delays. Gas is viewed as more attractive, but is an expensive energy source that is mainly envisaged as a backup for emergency situations.

None of these technologies offer rapid solutions.

The small-scale option

It’s not expected that sufficient alternative power sources will be operational until about 2026. Power cuts look set to stay for the coming years.

On the positive side, this is likely to act as a catalyst for growth in small to medium scale solar installations. These may take the form of domestic rooftop installations or even mini power plants on the roofs of shopping malls or adjacent to mines and industrial plants. Municipalities will also soon be able to set up their local power generation facilities.

So some may escape the power cuts earlier – but investment in such solutions is only for those who can afford it.

Hartmut Winkler, Professor of Physics, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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April 5, 2021 6:07 am

So they are building wind and solar plants for peaking power? What is their reason for thinking such plants would work for that purpose?

Reply to  DHR
April 5, 2021 6:51 am

If the peak is in the middle of the day, solar will meet it…

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 8:16 am

I told people in S. Africa years ago – GET OUT!

Reply to  Anti-griff
April 5, 2021 9:20 pm

…and we’ve been telling you for years: Shut the F up! Like things are so perfect on your side. Why don’t you deal with the Bolshevik stormtroopers burning down the place around your ears, before you share your questionable wisdoms with people you have no business with? Enjoy your experimental vaccine-like product, oh wise one…

Tim Gorman
Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 8:26 am

If the peak is in the middle of the day, solar will meet it…”

Unless it’s cloudy or rainning!

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 8:39 am

If….. 😀
and if not, what’s probably the case ?? 😀

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 8:41 am

You are so often, äh no, always far of reality, unbelievabel 😀

David Kamakaris
Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 9:13 am

Gee Griff, if only Texas had followed your advice…

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 9:58 am

Dear Griff:
I hate to feed a troll but that comment is asinine.
Solar rises in the morning, peaks around 12:30pm, and then fades off.
Demand rises in the morning STAYS HIGH ALL DAY even as solar fades in the afternoon, and then peaks around 6:00 pm as people get home from work. Solar meanwhile, has faded away.
If you use UK data, easily available, and plot solar power against grid demand, there is a NEGATIVE correlation, that is, as the grid demands more power, in the later pm, solar power fades. Not to mention there is no way to get solar on cloudy days.
BTW, if you plot wind power against the grid demand, there is NO correlation.

There is no way a poor country like S.A. can afford to maintain a dual system of electricity generation, thermal and “renewable”. That is a luxury only a few rich Western nations can afford.

Reply to  joel
April 6, 2021 6:31 am

Yep, our home solar hits 50% of rated output around 10:30AM and passes below 50% of rated around 3:30PM and by 6PM it’s nearing 10% rated. You only really make hay while the sun shines at certain angles.

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 9:58 am

But of course you don’t bother with posting evidence to support your silly assertion.

Reply to  Sunsettommy
April 5, 2021 10:08 am

griff doesn’t know what evidence is, and facts are far beyond his horizon 😀

Leo Smith
Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 1:19 pm

it isnt.

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 1:57 pm

That’s the problem Griff, solar output peaks well before demand peaks. This creates a problem called the duck curve, excess electricity mid day and shortfalls of electricity in the evening. You have to use a stable generation source like coal, gas or nuclear generation or you will have an unstable intermittent electrical grid.

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 3:13 pm

Yo Griffy … it’s been overcast and raining here in my state for close to 3 weeks … my solar generation is about 7% of the normal expected generation.

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 8:46 pm

If. Seriiously!

Reply to  griff
April 5, 2021 9:24 pm

So, when does power demand “peak”? Early in the morning, when people get up, al the water heaters and stoves use a bit. Same at sundown, at the end of the working day.
The biggest surge is in the morning, when the factories switch on their massive motors, drawing massive current for a few seconds each. Then all settles down. THEN the sun gets high enough for solar panels.
In other words, griff, your statement is below even your own standards of logic.

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  griff
April 6, 2021 5:04 am

It isn’t.

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  griff
April 6, 2021 5:21 am

Some real data you could easily have found for yourself that shows the evening peak and the duck curve.


Reply to  It doesn't add up...
April 7, 2021 12:03 am

peaks at 6am and 7pm

So solar will be COMPLETELY USELESS. !

Reply to  griff
April 6, 2021 11:58 pm

So they have to cook in the middle of the day, when they are all working elsewhere

YOU ARE AN IDIOT, griff. !!

You really do HATE people in South Africa,

.. suggesting they do things that you would NEVER do.

Such ugly, deep-seated HYPOCRISY !

Reply to  DHR
April 5, 2021 7:12 am

They must think that installed capacity is the same as base load availability. And for 15%-20% of the time, they may be right when coincidently the demand is met when the wind and solar are delivering, but we know with certainty that the majority of time, peak demand will not coincide with outputs by renewables. So they will still have to install the same back up capacity if they don’t want to implement demand side management. (rolling black outs)

Right-Handed Shark
Reply to  DHR
April 5, 2021 7:42 am

This is green thinking. When weather dependent power generation is not working due to prevailing conditions, the solution is to install more of it.

Reply to  DHR
April 5, 2021 7:57 am

Lies are the currency of the new world order and the consequences of repeating these lies over and over are mindless solutions to both real problems and imagined ones.

April 5, 2021 6:07 am

At that rate the wind and solar power contributions to South Africa’s electricity will remain below 10% of the national total for several more years. Renewables won’t make a decisive impact to alleviate the country’s power shortage for at least five years.

That’s risible. Hartmut Winkler is an idiot. Just saying.

Reply to  commieBob
April 5, 2021 8:57 am

Oh, I dunno. He didn’t say they would make a decisive impact to alleviate the country’s power shortage for at least five years; he only said the wouldn’t.

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  commieBob
April 6, 2021 5:22 am

Probably just as well, as there is a lack of flexible gas capacity for balancing.

Peter Morris
April 5, 2021 6:16 am

What a joke. As if a bunch of random solar cells on rooftops can in any way help alleviate a deficit in reliable baseload operations.

Professor? More like Confessor in the Inquisition of the global climate religion.

Benjamin Blair
Reply to  Peter Morris
April 5, 2021 6:59 am

When will our allegedly brightest and best — by their own estimation — fall out of love with wind and solar? Everything points to them being the love children of those who would not understand a balance sheet, or a power engineer if they were bitten by them both at once.

Ron Long
Reply to  Peter Morris
April 5, 2021 7:43 am

Peter Morris, I think you are right as regards rooftop solar panels substituting for a functioning electricity grid. However, here in Argentina, in the Province of Neuquen, I saw a actual good application. The Provincial government, for houses isolated in rural settings, set up small solar panels, connected to a conventional car battery, and gave each house a radio. This was to facilitate the Messages Hour, where a person could phone the radio station and leave a message for the Lopez family, for instance. Since this was a radio everyone was listening, and messages like “Mr. Lopez, your pregnant girlfriend is coming in two days to visit you and your wife” were quite entertaining.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Ron Long
April 5, 2021 10:07 am

Mmmm, well, perhaps not for Mr. Lopez…;-)

Reply to  Ron Long
April 5, 2021 4:34 pm

How long will she be staying; any idea?

April 5, 2021 7:16 am

At least companies know what kind of computers to buy for their employees this coming decade. Pretty much everyone in the Cape Town office works on laptops. It does disrupt meetings because of the lockdowns, and international telecom meetings to the Western hemisphere have to be cancelled or changed.

Russ Wood
Reply to  AWG
April 5, 2021 9:17 am

When my wife was working as part of an international team, creating the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, there were frequent load sheddings while in tele-conference. My wife was asked what the ‘beeping’ was that was audible – it was our UPS, running the modem! These days, the UPS isn’t a lot of use, because our fibre has a hub that is within the ‘blackout boundary’. Not much use having electronics without viable communications! And the cellphone network isn’t much better – the tower batteries (those that haven’t been stolen) run flat after about half an hour of no power.

John Pickens
April 5, 2021 7:25 am

I’ve made this comment before, but solar PV and wind turbines are not, in any way, renewable.

Until a producer can demonstrate production of PV panels or wind turbines using only solar or wind power, it is obvious that they are unable to support their own energy cost of production.

They are merely subsidy farms, turning $0.08 per kwH Chinese coal power into $0.16 Per kwH subsidized “renewable” power.

Reply to  John Pickens
April 5, 2021 8:02 am

Intermittent/renewable power works when demand is viable (i.e. Choice). It’s a marketing game to play with green people… persons.

April 5, 2021 8:06 am

When the wind blows out of range, and the twilight approaches, it’s lights out for green consumers and dependents of Green energy.

Reply to  n.n
April 5, 2021 8:59 am

Their sense of being virtuous will keep them warm

Reply to  n.n
April 6, 2021 4:03 am

Now, with ‘smart’ meters getting installed, utilities might offer a ‘green’ contract. When the wind dies down, your meter cuts you off.
But the left would make it mandatory. Except for senior Party members, of course.

April 5, 2021 8:27 am

They will have to get out of the pocket of green energy to succeed. Otherwise they will suffer but investors will have made their profits before bailing.

April 5, 2021 9:04 am

Bill Gates is is putting his money in the most durable and finite asset of all.The cofounder of microsoft and his wife
make an auspicious debut on the 2020 land report 100, as America’s largest
private farmland owners.

Reply to  Vuk
April 5, 2021 10:27 am

Will Rodgers, when asked what he invests in:


On the outer Barcoo
April 5, 2021 9:13 am

Sympathy is pointless.

April 5, 2021 9:14 am

They don’t even get into the issue of high costs for small scale power plants and rooftop solar. The reader is being carefully steered away from bad economic news on costs…again.

April 5, 2021 9:24 am

As a resident on SA i can say for sure that it won’t end after 5 years or probably ever under the current regime. Eskom has just signed a contract for the next 20years for Turkish power ships anchored in major ports to deliver power to the grid which is an admission to that

Reply to  Etienne
April 5, 2021 3:26 pm

Isn’t ESKOM a jobs program disguised as an electric utility?

Reply to  Kevin
April 5, 2021 9:52 pm

No, no, no! Eskom she is da “vee-hikle of tranzfermashun”. The ruling ANC party determined from day one that Eskom is the perfect way to transfer vast amounts of money to “previously disadvantaged stakeholders”. In other words, they privatised the supply chain, then issued tenders to be filled by a specific group: black South Africans. Not qualified, knowlegeable or even just fairly honest people, you just have to be….a memeber of good standing in the ANC, have family in the ANC power structure, or be rich enough to own a politician in the ANC power structure. The salary of the average Eskom technician is higher that that of the average midlevel manager in a functioning factory, so even those jobs go for the connected, without regard to abilities. Or understanding of basic maintenance schedules…
That is how the infamous Gupta family from India managed to “win” a tender for half a billion dollars of coal they never had or planned to deliver. Yes, they are from India, but at least they are not White, eh what?
You must admit, it was a brilliant scheme; drain billions from an entity you know every White man will work like hell to sustain, then fire all the White workers, then tax them to keep the country’s lights on. Then you turn their power off twice a week…
White people are terrified of the dark, it seems…

April 5, 2021 9:41 am

The programme successfully established South Africa’s renewable energy sector through three bid windows. But it stalled after 2015 when these new technologies began to threaten the interests of politically well connected interest groups in the coal and nuclear sectors.

Not a lack of cash, then?

South Africa’s public finances are in a perilous state. There are four main reasons for this. First, economic growth is low or non-existent. Second, tax revenue collection is repeatedly below forecasts. Third, debt levels have risen rapidly and are now at their highest levels in the post-apartheid era. Fourth, the poor performance of state-owned enterprises is necessitating large-scale government support.


Dave O.
April 5, 2021 9:44 am

They’re not renewables, they’re unreliables.

Roger Taguchi
April 5, 2021 9:51 am

South Africa has learned a valuable lesson. You need backup for unreliable coal power plants.

Reply to  Roger Taguchi
April 5, 2021 11:29 am

Boy are you dumb

Roger Taguchi
Reply to  Derg
April 5, 2021 12:32 pm

Re-read the article Derg, and play close attention to the part that says: “This is because of the increased down-time of the rapidly ageing fleet of coal plants. “

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Roger Taguchi
April 5, 2021 1:34 pm

Every kind of machine eventually begins to be less reliable as it nears or exceeds it’s design lifetime. When that happens, it must be replaced, but SA has not done this, so like the people that keep driving their old car and hoping it will run a little longer, they blame the machine for breaking down. Privately they know it’s their own fault, but they just can’t admit it.

Coal power plants, when properly maintained and operated within their design lifetime are very reliable. To state or imply otherwise is simply dishonest.

Reply to  Roger Taguchi
April 5, 2021 1:35 pm

Yes Roger.
Except there aren’t a lot of unreliable coal power plants. Only when they reach end-of-life conditions. Or have not been maintained as required.

Wind & solar however, need full-capacity 24×7 backup by gas or coal generation from the moment they are turned on brand new.

Which prompts the rational question –
why experiment with wind & solar generation at all?

Reply to  Roger Taguchi
April 5, 2021 5:30 pm

Typical greentard … moving to unreliable renewables is going to solve a reliability problem 🙂

Reply to  Roger Taguchi
April 5, 2021 9:50 pm

We’ll learn you for having a sense of humour! Now take your whippin’ from the maddened crowd, you freak!

April 5, 2021 9:56 am

Massive and wide scale corruption , is the underlying problem .
Money for these projects will ‘go missing’ ‘work will be promised and ‘not done’ , politicians and their friends pockets will be lined , and the people will still not have power.

April 5, 2021 9:57 am

South Africa is slowly becoming a Communist state, that is a factor on why they are failing to keep up their power demands.

Reply to  Sunsettommy
April 6, 2021 5:28 am

The doctors in South Africa figured that out 15-20 years ago and all left. The small city I live closest to has about 50% SA doctors. My Dr. is from SA, and she left as soon as she graduated in about 2005. Mostly white from upper middle class families. There must not be very many good doctors left in SA, but they must have had a very good medical education system to teach that many good doctors. I suppose those institutions are crumbling too.

Michael in Dublin
April 5, 2021 2:03 pm

Prof Winkler is wearing blinkers. No mention of the enormous effect of crime.

Cable Theft is Crippling South Africa

  • TRANSNET loses R1.6m per day or R584m per year
  • TELKOM loses R300,000 per day or R100m per year
  • ESKOM loses R5.5m per day or R2,000m per year
  • PRASA loses R2.1m per day or R750m per year
  • 3 Gauteng Metros lose R1.4m per day or R500m per year
  • Copper cables to the value ofR173m was stolen from Gauteng Railway lines

That is a total of R3.93b per year – and that is only the cable cost. The true effect of cable theft in loss of production and operations is a factor of 35-50 times the value of the cable.

Using the South African factor of loss=39 times cable value, we are losing a staggering R187b (€10 billion/$13 billion) per year.


Reply to  Michael in Dublin
April 5, 2021 3:28 pm

Can you imagine such a corrupt system trying to build and operate nuclear power plants?

Pariah Dog
Reply to  Michael in Dublin
April 6, 2021 12:58 am

Gatengaleng, Gautengaleng, I wanna stay in Gautengaleng… – Leon Schuster

I left nearly 20 years ago and have never regretted it.

Michael in Dublin
Reply to  Michael in Dublin
April 9, 2021 5:59 am

I posted the above comment on The Conversation under Winkler’s article and was censored. The huge incidence of cable theft is not a false claim but public knowledge which needs to be part of any serious discussion.

I was told
If you’re playing by the rules it’s unlikely to happen again, so feel free to continue to post new comments and engage in polite and respectful discussion.”

So much for the claim of The Conversation to be there to promote open conversation.
On their website this article has only two comments.
Wattsupwiththat has 64 already on this same article.

The Conversation is a third rate “web publisher.” I would advise any reputable researcher to avoid using them. I would prefer Wattsup not giving them more readers but rather find more of their knowledgeable engineer/scientist supporters to write new articles on these topics.

April 5, 2021 3:11 pm

This is because of the increased down-time of the rapidly ageing fleet of coal plants. But it is also due to delays in setting up new power plants.

BS … it is because the government ministers and acolytes have stolen the money and discarded all of the engineers who knew how to maintain the fleet in favour of its racially discriminatory BEEE policy.

April 5, 2021 10:04 pm

Okay, since no-one is willing to look into the devil’s eyes, here goes:
If you read all the comments, it becomes clear that “peak power” happens early in the morning, and some at sundown. The “rolling power rationing” happens at all hours, even outside peak demand, so what gives?
Against advice, objections and prophecies of doom, the governing ANC signed a contract with ALCOA to host the world’s biggest virgin alluminium smeltery. This thing is designed to utilise 7% of total generating capacity. Now do some easy sums, and it goes like this:
7% of capacity, but only 60% of capacity is online. Of those online generators, efficiency is, what? Let’s be generous, and say 80%.
So, in a system running at 48% of possible capacity, you use 7% of possible capacity, is 14% of actual generation.
One factory is using 14% of the countries power. You can never, ever switch off a smelter, ever. It runs 24/7/365.
Conclusion: SA’s power blackouts happen to coincide with production runs at the ALCOA smeltery, the rest of the time we keep pumping electricity to a smeltery that is not much in demand, seeing as halft the world’s poor are running arund stealing and scroundging aluminium for scrap metal, making ALCOA almost useless.
Now, let’s talk about tyhe VERY sweet deal on rates, which means these people have never actually paid a bill that I can find proof for…
So, corruption is to blame, but who corrupted the politicians?

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