Mzansi’s energy bosses are walking a thin tightrope and each new bout of load shedding makes a stage 8 schedule seem more possible. But can it really happen?
Last week, the South African power utility once again announced stage 4 load shedding across the country as some generation units ran into trouble. Eskom added that its diesel usage was extremely high and that emergency reserves were being depleted faster than can be replenished. And with fuel prices skyrocketing worldwide, experts are worried that we could be headed for even longer blackouts in the near future.
According to energy expert James Steyn, stage 8 load shedding is possible if Eskom’s system continues to deteriorate while there is not enough new generation capacity added.
If this is to happen, the lights would be out for up to 12 hours per day, depending on the region and local municipal schedule. “[But] all load shedding stages are bad,” he says. “For example, in stage 4… some people are cut off for more than 10 hours a day.”
Steyn says that a stage 8 energy crisis could potentially cripple farmers, and the only way out is to shift to renewable energy.
“The answer is, each business must do what it can to reduce reliance on Eskom. Renewables like solar panels on roofs may provide some relief, especially when it is added to batteries. But large-scale generation is needed.”
To add to the problem, the state has run out of money to keep the lights on, Steyn adds, who feels that it is left with no other option but to partner with the private sector to keep the country’s economy going.
His key message: power cuts are not going away anytime soon and farmers should come up with mitigating plans.
Adapt or suffer losses
Farmers across the country know all too well that load shedding in any stage is bad for business, and have already started making other plans.
Poultry farmer Lebo Mashigo tells Food For Mzansi that the rolling interruptions have dealt her industry huge blows, threatening the existence of many new farmer businesses like hers.
“It becomes difficult to operate the business under load shedding. In business, every minute counts. We cannot connect with customers. We cannot pay suppliers. This will eventually force an employer to cut down on staff.”
Mashigo is heavily dependent on electricity in her chicken houses, as the birds are extremely sensitive and require housing with controlled temperatures and lighting. A power cut could easily result in production taking a knock or the chickens dying.
“Going hours without power at night or in the morning will cause the layers to stress. The number of eggs go down when the chickens are stressing. They could even die due to stress.”
She is frustrated with feed prices going up but production going down, and the added challenges of electricity disruptions across the value chain, such as delayed deliveries.
A senior manager at a large chicken manufacturer in Rustenburg, Tsholofelo More, says power cuts have a severe impact on costs everywhere. For instance, businesses are forced to buy diesel for their generators, or work around power cuts.
“Some processing plants do not have generators, meaning the chickens cannot be slaughtered at that moment. The longer the farmer keeps the chickens on the farm, the more feed [is] needed.
“The quality of the chicken is not directly impacted but the quantity is. The more power cuts, the fewer chickens can be slaughtered.”
Out in the field, too…
Grain farmer Phaladi Matsole says that, because they use pivots to irrigate their land, a steady supply of electricity is important, but the interruptions require some fancy footwork from farmers.
“Most farms do have standby generators to assist when we are having power problems, but those generators do not run irrigation pumps, which can create a huge impact on getting around your irrigation schedule.”
“For stock taking one relies on electricity too. [And] two to four hours of no power means hours of production loss. The business is losing.”
Dairy farmer Sipho Nondlebe says that power cuts have a significant impact on dairy farmers too, and leads to a loss of production time and disrupted schedules.
Amid the nervousness about escalating power problems, Anton Eberhard, an energy and investment specialist, tells Food For Mzansi it is unlikely that the country will nosedive into a total blackout scenario.
“It is possible but not likely,” he says. “However, the Eskom power system has very little reserve margin and unexpected breakdowns of its old and unreliable coal power stations mean we will continue to experience load shedding, typically stage 2 or 4, for at least the next three years.”
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