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                                Thoughts on South Africa’s

                                “emergency” power

                                purchase tender

        by Roger Lilley, Now Media

        Interruptions in the supply of electricity, be it through load shedding or equipment failure, undermines the
        very foundation of the modern age. Electricity is an essential commodity. We need it in every aspect of
        our lives. Since Eskom seems unable to guarantee a reliable supply of electricity, the government started
        looking for outside help. The bids are in and the choices made.

             he minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede   He made it clear in August 2020 that the choice of vendor would
             Mantashe, announced the preferred bidders to the   not be based on technology, but on power being available quickly
        Tgovernment’s Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer   and inexpensively.
        Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP) in March this year – just six   It seems, now that the preferred bidders have been identified,
        months after the programme was announced and requests for   that this is what he was  offered.
        proposals were made. Almost immediately, questions were raised   The programme has a complicated name, but it is in fact a call
        about the decisions reached.                           for emergency power. Simply put, the minister wishes to mitigate
           Critics were unhappy that one company was seemingly handed   the risk – possibly a very real risk – of ever-increasing levels of load
        the lion’s share of the new generation contract, especially since the   shedding, and perhaps even a total power outage.
        company would be using a non-renewable primary energy source,   While it may be preferable to have a larger portion of the total
        viz., natural gas. They also question why a 20-year contract was   capacity coming from renewable and clean sources of energy, the
        given to a company which usually supplies emergency power for   fact that gas-powered generation can be made available quickly and
        less than half that long.                              affordably obviously trumped this preference.
           The point is, however, that critics may have overlooked the   Gauging from previous rounds, it would take at least two years
        government’s motivation behind the RMIPPP programme.   to build a 100 MW solar PV or wind farm – assuming the property
           Load shedding has done the South African economy    was available upon which to build these. The gas-fired power plants
        immeasurable harm. Loss of productivity and increased energy   will supply the country with more than twice that capacity and in far
        costs have resulted in job losses, company closures and reduced   less time.
        opportunities for foreign investment. As someone once said to me,   Let’s remember that the decision to build Medupi and Kusile
        the cost of no electricity is the highest electricity tariff of all.  was to enable Eskom to close some of its older unreliable polluting
           While natural gas may be non-renewable and is a fossil fuel,   power stations. Instead, these two massive power stations, which
        it burns far cleaner than the thousands of litres of diesel fuel that   have cost more than twice what was budgeted and are still not
        Eskom burns at its modified gas turbines. These turbines were   operating at fully capacity, have created a massive drain on Eskom’s
        initially installed to provide additional power during periods of   finances, and have failed to achieve the original purpose.
        peak demand – usually early morning and late afternoons. But, by   Over the last few days (at time of writing) many voices have
        Eskom’s own admission, these so-called peaking plants are often   called for a review of the process and with more public discussion
        run continuously to keep the lights on. This comes at enormous   and engagement.
        cost to the power utility – and ultimately to users and taxpayers   Why delay things further? What possible good would a review
        who must pick up the bill – and to the environment since these   of the process be? And who would review it? What real contribution
        diesel-burning power plants spew tonnes of toxic gases into the   can the public make to the discussion? What the public wants is
        atmosphere.                                            that streetlights burn at night, that traffic lights operate properly, that
           The ship-based gas-burners are designed to run continuously   they can boil a kettle, use a microwave oven, surf the Internet, or
        and with fewer emissions. They would also be more efficient and   watch TV. South Africans are tired of load shedding.
        reliable than Eskom’s peakers which are also getting old.  We need extra power now. If the companies the minister
           Eskom admits that there is often far more generating equipment   has chosen are able to prevent further load shedding and help
        offline through unplanned maintenance (i.e., breakdowns) than the   the country in its post-Covid-19 recovery, then they should be
        amount offline for planned maintenance. As a result, the utility often   encouraged to do so without delay.
        warns of the need for higher levels of load shedding.     It is therefore hoped that the additional power will become
           So, to avoid that happening, the minister sought outside help.   available sooner rather than later.    n

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