I’m writing this relying on my laptop battery and my phone’s internet connection. I’m experiencing something people in Africa experience way too often – no access to a reliable source of electricity. The impact for me is an inconvenience, for others, it can be life threatening.
South Africa is currently experiencing load shedding – we are on the most severe level of a schedule which tells us when electricity will be shut off to whole areas at a time. Today we don’t have electricity between 12:00 and 14:30 and between 20:00 and 22:30. Load or demand is shed to reduce demand on the electricity grid, to avoid a complete breakdown of the grid.
Eskom (the South African public electricity utility) usually has a capacity of 45 000MW, currently, it is supplying roughly 27 000MW. This is largely due to problems at some of its coal-fired power plants, but has been compounded by a shortage of diesel supply (in times of high demand “peaking” plants burn diesel to meet demand – something that has been happening regularly at great cost) and the collapse of transmission lines which bring hydro-electricity from Mozambique to South Africa.
The transmission lines have collapsed due to damage from cyclone Idai, which has caused untold havoc and suffering in Mozambique. The United Nations has said that this could be the worst weather-related disaster to have struck the Southern Hemisphere. While it compounds problems in South Africa, people are dying in Mozambique. Load shedding in South Africa and a calamitous storm in Mozambique may appear to only be connected by a few broken power lines, the connection is much stronger. It is clear to many people who work on climate change and development that the two are strongly connected, and the connection between these two events underline this.
As climate change or climate breakdown increases, storms like Idai will become more intense. The longer it takes us to address development and reach development goals, the greater the impact of these events will be. At the same time that climate change and development can impact each other negatively, we can address both challenges at the same time.
350Africa.org continues to advocate for a just transition to renewable energy, which presents us with the opportunity to remodel our energy system, and move away from dirty, centrally run and owned power plants to distributed, renewable energy systems that are owned by and benefit the communities where they are located. An energy system that relies on a greater number of generation technologies, locations and owners will be more resilient – where a few power lines being knocked out doesn’t result in 900MW of capacity being lost.
The additional upside to all this? An electricity system that is no longer fuelling climate breakdown through burning of fossil fuels like coal and diesel, and fewer weather related catastrophes, saving lives and livelihoods.
There are glimmers of hope that this is starting to be taken seriously. Eskom has announced that they are investigating halting construction on unfinished and yet to be started units at two mega coal-fired power stations currently under construction called Medupi and Kusile. That would be a sane decision and needs to be accompanied by a policy to not build any additional fossil fuel plants in South Africa, especially while our vast renewable resources remain untapped.
We can all make sure this happens, and if you’d like to help – we’d like to hear from you.
– Glen Tyler, 350.org South Africa Team Leader