The South African Energy Crisis: A Battle between Power Needs and Environmentalists

In the face of a dire energy crisis, the South African government is waging a war on two fronts. On one side, the demand for reliable energy supplies is pressing, and on the other, the fervent resistance of environmentalists is proving to be a formidable hurdle to their proposed solutions.

South Africa’s energy troubles have been headline news for years now. The consistent blackouts and power cuts have taken a significant toll on the country’s economy. Recently, debt-ridden state utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. projected that they would only be able to supply electricity for half of the day during the upcoming winter season.

In an attempt to curb this power shortage, the South African government has sought to bring in help from the Turkish company, Karpowership. The proposal involves anchoring the company’s power ships at three of the nation’s harbors. This solution, however, has ignited outrage among environmental groups.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe commented on the issue, expressing frustration with environmentalist groups, stating, “Environmentalists veto every development they don’t like…People can take us to court as many times as they can, we will continue with gas and petroleum exploration.” This comment follows the South African government granting Karpowership and other winning bidders 20-year supply contracts.

Environmentalists argue that these contracts could lock South Africa into two decades of fossil fuel use. Yet, with South Africa’s energy needs pressing, the government seems willing to defend their decision in court if necessary. Even Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has publicly supported Mantashe’s procurement of new capacity.

Indeed, this conflict between the government and environmentalists has been ongoing, with plans to work with Karpowership embroiled in lawsuits and environmental challenges for years. Amid this discord, the energy crisis continues to bear down on the nation.

Meanwhile, South Africa has been unintentionally surpassing its emissions reduction goals. With regular breakdowns of coal-fired power plants and enforced rotational cuts, South Africa is inadvertently reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The country is ahead of its target for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, a silver lining to an otherwise daunting situation.

This scenario demonstrates the complex dynamics at play in South Africa’s energy landscape. The government is grappling with the pressing need to provide reliable electricity to its citizens, a responsibility that is becoming increasingly difficult with a grid pushed to its limits.

However, the vehement objections from environmental groups continue to cause gridlock driving the South African economy into a ditch.


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May 31, 2023 10:17 am

“Power ships”? Sounds like a good temporary fix. Environmentalists vs energy needs is nothing new in the world.

Bryan A
Reply to  mleskovarsocalrrcom
May 31, 2023 10:54 am

Someone aught to Bit¢h-slap those Environmentalists back to Africa

Reply to  Bryan A
May 31, 2023 2:36 pm

… out of Africa 🙂

Dave Fair
Reply to  Bryan A
May 31, 2023 3:50 pm

Uh, South Africa?

Bryan A
Reply to  Dave Fair
May 31, 2023 10:26 pm

Just a little farther south

May 31, 2023 10:25 am

Well it’s good to know it’s not government incompetence like everywhere else.

Reply to  terry
May 31, 2023 11:22 am

Unfortunately, government incompetence is how they got in to the brownout/blackout stage from the former functional power grid. The greenwashed wreckers are just one obstacle to getting back out of the pit.

another ian
Reply to  John_C
May 31, 2023 3:28 pm

Never fear – help is on the way (/s)

“South Africa’s Ruling ANC Party to Pass New Apartheid Bill that Forces Companies to Ban “Non-Black Africans” from Employment”

IIRC there is something about who keeps their nuke plants running?

Dave Fair
Reply to  another ian
May 31, 2023 3:55 pm

What’s the problem? They are attempting in good faith to bring South Africa in alignment with the politics, economies and energy systems as the rest of the continent’s countries.

Reply to  Dave Fair
June 1, 2023 6:11 pm

They have exceeded in their endeavors way beyond their wildest dreams.

Tom Halla
May 31, 2023 10:44 am

It is not a bug, it is a feature. Environmentalists oppose industry, so rolling blackouts are just energy conservation writ large.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Tom Halla
May 31, 2023 4:06 pm

The logical conclusion of every utility’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) demand-side management provision. I’ve been screaming about this since the first time I had the misfortune to be involved in writing an IRP. It was only when I became Executive Manager of engineering, construction and O&M and later, CEO/GM of another electric utility that I could do anything effective about it.

Rud Istvan
May 31, 2023 11:27 am

The South Africa electricity situation is a bit more complicated. I looked up the average age of Eskom’s coal generating plants. It is 41 years. The average retirement age for US coal plants is 42 years. So about half of Eskom’s capacity should already have been retired. And that of course means more outages for old decrepit capacity. Lack of investment, not just environmentalists.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 31, 2023 11:54 am

“Lack of investment, not just environmentalists.”

Agreed. But who would invest a billion dollars on refurbishments when your coal-fired generating plant could be wiped out a year later with the stroke of a pen?

In my opinion, the lack of investments is a direct consequence of the power of the environmentalists!

Premium Cracker
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 31, 2023 11:55 am

It would seem that the folks that have run the country for the past few decades do not know what they are doing.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Premium Cracker
May 31, 2023 11:58 am

Cannot speak to it generally, but with respect to ESKOM that appears true. Average age 41 speaks to incompetence, not just financial hardship.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 31, 2023 12:50 pm

Aren’t you presuming that that figure of 42 years for U.S. plants is appropriate? If normal periodic upgrades had been carried out, surely the age matters very little and they would have had many more years of useful life ahead? Failing to carry out those upgrades is merely playing into the hands of the enviro-freaks, who can then claim that those plants are emitting dangerous stuff. All probably caused by those politicians who cannot see beyond some modest saving when upgrading is not carried out!
It’s all down to the accountants, as usual!

Rud Istvan
Reply to  mikelowe2013
May 31, 2023 1:45 pm

I did my thesis on electricity generation. But just to make sure, went and just checked old coal problems in the US. There are three fundamental reduced efficiency issues that eventually mean they must be economically retired. They cannot be fixed except by a new plant.

  1. Exterior boiler tube corrosion from corrosive flue gas exposure pre scrubbing. This means that over time, the ‘safe’ operating temperature and pressure must be lowered.
  2. Interior boiler tube scale formation. Despite recycling (via stream condensation) ‘pure’ water, scale builds up from makeup water and lowers tube thermal transfer efficiency.
  3. Steam turbine blade corrosion.. Lowers turbine thermal efficiency.

In essence, replacing the boiler tubes and the turbine to fix lower efficiency is equivalent to replacing the whole thing with a new plant with better metallurgy and higher efficiency. The fleet average US coal thermal efficiency is 32%. So the older stuff is worse than 32%. The fleet average for new standard (not supercritical) coal is 34%. Both numbers from FERC. That difference is why old coal gets economically retired at an average age of 42 years.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 31, 2023 3:10 pm

Your comment reminded me of the time our ChE thermo class professor was extolling the virtues of mercury vs. water as a working fluid due to the latter’s corrosive properties. “Of course”, he said with a grin as he delivered the punch line, “if you have a tube leak, your operators drop dead”.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 31, 2023 2:44 pm

Not withstanding, corruption is so bad in that country that maintenance has not been carried out as the funding has been stolen by political lackies. Without fail every single piece of major infrastructure including rail and airlines has failed for the same reason.

Reply to  Streetcred
May 31, 2023 4:50 pm

The SA ruling party, ANC, recently drafted amendments to the Employment Equity Act that labor experts and opposition parties say will ban “non-black Africans” from employment across most of the economy. SA is now the only country in the world where the majority population has Affirmative Action.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 31, 2023 3:24 pm

Lack of investment, not just environmentalists.

They have been investing in new solar and wind generators. They are only now recognising that the guaranteed output is ZERO.

The vast majority of people still think that investment in wind and solar is a good investment rather than a waste of money; condemning consumers to ever rising costs. You can saturate a grid with wind and solar with capacity 10 times the peak demand and you will not always have generating capacity to meet demand – the GUARANTEED OUTPUT IS ZERO.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 2, 2023 4:13 am

The two biggest coal plants are less than a decade old ( and not yet fully commissioned ) and they break down more that the old fleet.

May 31, 2023 11:29 am

Better sell some more weapons to Russia in the name of the clepto party. In the Animal Farm some piggies are more energy equal than others.

May 31, 2023 12:38 pm

I grew up in South Africa. Do not for a second underestimate the levels of corruption, ineptitude and laziness of the ANC. The government of the country I live in now might struggle to organise a piss-up in a brewery, but the ANC would drink all the beer, sell all the equipment and then blame apartheid for the brewery subsequently going out of business.

Reply to  PariahDog
May 31, 2023 5:14 pm

See my Comment above.

Reply to  PariahDog
June 1, 2023 6:04 am

PariahDog wrote: “I grew up in South Africa.”

Indeed, so did my grandfather the historian. He foresaw what would happen when the blacks took over. He wrote a novel about it – “When Smuts Goes”. The only thing he got wrong is how long it would take for the country to turn into a total shit-hole. The worst of his predictions have not yet come to pass, but everything looks pretty much on track!

(Then he moved his family out in the 1950s, although I still have relatives living there)

May 31, 2023 12:45 pm

Sounds like they have a reverse apartheid going on there now

Richard Page
Reply to  MikeSexton
May 31, 2023 2:05 pm

I think you just mean an apartheid. A reverse apartheid would involve full and total integration of all South Africans.

May 31, 2023 12:53 pm

We’ve gone from having nothing to having something and we’re going back to having nothing

They want Africa to go straight from having nothing to…. having nothing – and being happy

May 31, 2023 1:12 pm

It is past time to stop labeling these monsters environmentalists. They are not environmentalists, I am an environmentalist. I want clean air, clean land and clean water. Not pure, there is no such thing as pure. I want names of people and names of groups so the individual people and groups can be dealt with. If I had the power I would gather them all up and put them on a reservation, an environmental reservation. They would have no provisions, the point is they will start from zero and show the rest of us slobs how it is done. They can leave their paradise anytime they want but if they leave and return to their ignorant ways they will be forced back to paradise and not allowed to leave for a certain amount of time. All of our so called environmentalist problems will be solved in less than a year or two.

Reply to  Bob
May 31, 2023 3:02 pm

I was about to write much the same Bob.
These so called environmentalists cannot see past the end of their nose,
You would think that in South Africa they would know what poverty was and would not be pushing drastic policies to make their country even poorer.
They have been indoctrinated to believe that CO2 is a threat to the world but if these clowns get their way far more damage will occur in their country than an immeasurable warming.
I was brought up on a farm high on a mountain with wood fires for heating ,cooking and hot water. It was an endless task cutting and stacking fire wood ,lighting the fire in the morning to cook the breakfast and another fire under a copper to heat water for clothes washing.
A large garden was kept growing potatoes to store over the year and other vegetables throughout the year.
A house cow was milked by hand after herding her in from a paddock with surplus milk set in a large bowel for the cream to rise to the top.
The cream was skimmed and churned by hand into butter.
We did not have a refrigerator but a food safe was on the shaded side of the house out side.
Food wastage was a constant problem keeping half a sheep cool for 10 days .
I remember my mother taking perishables down a steep hill to a stream in a grove of native bush to try and keep them cool during hot summer days .
Sheep were shared between neighbors especially in the summer months.
I would like to see these activists ,extinction-rebellion and anti fossil fuel politicians live like how I have described .
They would not last a week in the winter and their food would spoil in the summer .
Doing all work by hand or using a horse they would soon wake up to the great benefit that electric power and fossil fuel has been to every person on this earth .
They would not go back to living with out electricity but they will force millions into poverty because of intermittent and expensive electricity .

Reply to  Graham
May 31, 2023 7:08 pm

I have no respect for these monsters and I want to know who they are.

May 31, 2023 5:05 pm

Wait, is this story about South Africa or California? It sounds almost identical…

Reply to  johnesm
May 31, 2023 5:17 pm

I could say “Monkey see Monkey do”, but I won’t.

Gary Pearse
May 31, 2023 5:31 pm

Energy Minister:

“Environmentalists veto every development they don’t like…”

Pass strict emergency legislation that empowers the gov to jail people and expell organiizations who interfere with provision of adequate, reliable and affordable energy and fuel. South Africa is the main target since they are the most developed of sub Saharan African country. If the billionaire elites don’t win the battle there, the whole continent is lost. Com’on South Africa, don’t give in. Mandela showed the way. Neocolonialism planned for your people is far worse than the one you had before!

June 1, 2023 3:13 pm

In the face of a dire energy crisis, the South African government is waging a war on two fronts. On one side, the demand for reliable energy supplies is pressing, and on the other, the fervent resistance of environmentalists is proving to be a formidable hurdle to their proposed solution”

Coming soon to a nation near you.

Reply to  Kpar
June 1, 2023 6:15 pm

They have no problem “disappearing” people they don’t agree with.

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