How to solve South Africa’s energy crisis

IN THE CONTROL room of Scatec Solar in Cape Town Johan Badenhorst gazes at the six monitors on the wall. The screens display the status of the firm’s 16 plants in 11 countries. The three in South Africa are doing nicely, producing enough energy to power 93,000 homes. Problems are rare, says Mr Badenhorst, Scatec’s senior control officer, before correcting himself: once a bird dropped a tortoise on a solar panel, smashing the glass.

Such issues, while upsetting for tortoises, are minor compared with those faced by Eskom, the state-owned utility that supplies 95% of South Africa’s electricity. At least one-third of its power stations are broken or shut for maintenance. Over recent months the talk of the country has been of “load-shedding”: a euphemism for blackouts because Eskom cannot meet demand. March was the worst-ever month for load-shedding, when Eskom regularly took 4,000-megawatts (MW) off the grid, about one-eleventh of its total capacity (45,561MW), or enough to power 3m homes.

Further failures could have severe consequences. “Eskom is the greatest systemic risk to the South African economy,” says Colin Coleman, the boss for sub-Saharan Africa of Goldman Sachs, a bank. Goldman reckons power cuts could reduce GDP growth by 0.9 percentage points, about half the rate of official growth forecasts.

Eskom also...

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