Central government concerned that major cities ditching Eskom for renewable energy could divide South Africa

South Africa was one of the most hit African countries by the global Covid-19 pandemic. However, that is not the only challenge ailing the nation. Power outages have become a constant headache to the South African population, especially those living in urban areas. Lack of a reliable supply of electricity has threatened to divide South Africa as federal governments root for their own, abandoning the troubled national electric-utility, Eskom. Eskom has been faced with a couple of problems such as corruption and ill management.

Eskom gets its electricity supply from coal plants. Over the past ten years, these plants have aged, and the government has not serviced them. This has been caused by inadequate funds and the embezzlement of available resources. The aging coal plants have caused a drop in the capacity of power produced, leading to frequent power outages. Eskom’s power capacity is about 44,000 megawatts (MW) currently. This value is decreasing, courtesy of the ill service and wear of the plants. It is estimated that in two months, the coal plants will lose 16,000MW of power-producing capacity.

Since 2008, South Africa has experienced frequent power blackouts.2019 was the apex of this problem, where power cuts contributed to economic losses worth between $3billion and $8billion.If this were to go on, the nation would incur $22 billion losses in the next ten years. These power cuts have taken a toll on the manufacturing sector, making growth in this industry slow. Since the central government under President Ramaphosa has not laid out plans to handle the Eskom problem, provincial and municipal administration has taken it upon themselves to develop new power sources for their subjects.

Cape Town, being South Africa’s tourism epicenter, has been frustrated the most by power cuts. It has led the city’s government to look for renewable energy sources as an alternative to Eskom. The coastal town is finally standing on its own in energy matters. However, the central government has raised concerns about this move.

Cape Town will easily find investing partners for their green energy projects, being a tourism hub. It is even better than the Eskom power. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, solar and storage battery costs are predicted to go down.

However, the national government does not support this initiative. For instance, in 2020, the central government declined to grant Cape Town the constitutional right to develop its electricity infrastructure. There have been rumors that the western part of Cape Town wants to break away into an independent region. This is one of the reasons why Cape Town lost the constitutional battle with the central administration. Another city that has developed its electricity grid is Durban. Durban recently announced its plan to break away from Eskom in the next 30 years. Durban also directed that 40% of the total energy consumed in the city should come from renewable sources by 2050.

Pretoria, being the capital city of South Africa, houses Eskom. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic that has delayed economic recovery, the city has to put its house in order by transforming Eskom to solve the power shortage crisis.