Major power producing company of South Africa — Eskom continues to dish out dissatisfaction to South Africans in need of constant electricity. South Africa which has been battling to keep its lights on even with the abundance of sunlight and the availability of renewable energy at its disposal, planned on delving into a nuclear deal with Russia in 2018 when former president Jacob Zuma was still in power.
This deal was hailed to prevent the country’s energy crises but many thought otherwise and controversies brewed. One year later and after several load shedding, Zuma insists that the deal would have averted South Africa’s energy woes.
The Russian-run nuclear energy plant could have cost South Africa $76 billion, equivalent to about 60 percent of government expenditure in the 2018/2019 fiscal year, had the country signed the deal. But controversy surrounding the deal led to the sack of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who refused to sign off on it.
Zuma, however, insists that South Africa’s current energy crisis could have been averted with the deal. “The fact of the matter is nuclear could solve our problems, once and for all. Now we are in deep, we are therefore increasing the debt of the country with no hope to bring it down. That’s a problem,” said Zuma.
Since November, Eskom has instituted daily rolling blackouts to avert a total collapse of the grid and on November 4, 2019, Eskom fell 4,000 megawatts short of the country’s electricity demand of 28,000 megawatts. The power utility has the ability to produce 45,583 megawatt but could only supply 24,000 megawatts due to maintenance issues.
Currently, the power utility is acknowledged as the single biggest risk to South Africa’s economy by the Treasury, credit rating agencies and the investment community. The increasing debt and corruption scandals made investment bank Goldman Sachs to declare Eskom the “biggest risk to South Africa’s economy.” The company has R413 billion in debt and plans to raise an additional R340 billion ($26 billion) by 2022, 8 percent of South Africa’s GDP.
Fixing South Africa’s energy crisis is not just about switching from one form of energy to another, after all, it would have taken Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation till 2023 to finish the nuclear energy plant and the country would have still witnessed a myriad of crises before then. Also, fixing the country’s crises is not all about generating more electricity even though some are of the opinion that this could be a temporary solution pending the revival of Eskom, the state utility firm.
With a total world harvest of over 1 billion tonnes of sugar cane per year, the global energy potential from the crushing of leftover of sugar cane stalks and tips called bagasse is over 100,000 Gigawatt hours (GWh). Currently, South Africa has surplus cane growers and an excess of 372 thousand hectares of farmland. The truth is that South Africa can address its power challenges using sugar cane as Mauritius is doing.
The World Economic Forum, on the other hand, has repeatedly noted that
“a smarter, more flexible grid would give South Africa a much better return on its energy investments and make renewables a more significant part of the energy mix. It doesn’t make sense to invest heavily in generation capacity without also rethinking transmission and distribution.”
Given the time it would have taken to build the nuclear power station— a thermal power station whereby heat is used to generate steam that drives a steam turbine connected to a generator to produces electricity— and coupled with the environmental concerns related to nuclear power (radioactive wastes),“the nuclear deal was, and potentially still is, a major threat to the livelihood of South African citizens and our quality of life.
There are other ways of generating energy, ways that are clean and affordable, and puts the power in the hands of the people,” said Makoma Lekalakala a Goldman Environmental Prize winner who is co-credited with spearheading a stop to the deal.