South Africa and the Inexperienced Power Wall – watts with it?


Franz Menton

It is obvious to anyone with critical thinking skills that intermittent renewable “green” energy will never work to power a modern economy. So, as various US states and other countries press ahead with their crash programs to make their power generation completely “green,” the next obvious question immediately arises: who will be the first to break the “green energy wall”? That said, which state or country will be the first to find that its power system has failed without sufficiently reliable generation? And how does that affect the population?

In previous posts I have examined the progress towards an energy catastrophe of various wealthy jurisdictions that have tackled this supposed transition to renewable electricity. For example, here is a post from December 17, 2021 titled “Which Country or State Will Reach the Renewable Energy Wall First?” This post focused on California and Germany. In my March 15, 2023 post, Countdown to New York’s Rendezvous With Energy Impossibility, New York was considered another candidate for the first hit to the wall.

But now let’s look at South Africa. South Africa is one of the wealthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which is not saying much. The World Bank puts its GDP per capita at around $7,000 for 2021. (For comparison, the US GDP per capita is around $70,000, while more affluent European countries like Germany, the UK, and France have GDPs per capita in the range of around $40,000 to $50,000.)

Unlike wealthy Western countries, South Africa is far from fully developed and has never achieved a fully developed power grid. The country has an outdated electricity infrastructure, almost entirely based on coal generation, which predates the ANC’s 1994 power grab. However, South Africa needs to greatly increase its electricity supply to become a fully developed economy. The population has grown rapidly (from about 43 million in 1994 to 60 million today). Meanwhile, his electric utility Eskom is heavily indebted and barely able to raise private capital. The country is therefore largely dependent on Western aid for support and the expansion of its power supply. As an example of what is happening in the area of ​​Western aid to power infrastructure, the World Bank stopped funding coal-fired power plants in 2013 and oil and gas exploration projects in 2017.

And so South Africa has become a mostly willing guinea pig for the green dreams of Western elites. According to Climate Home News of September 19, 2020, in 2019 the South African government launched a so-called Integrated Resources Plan “outlin[ing] a transition from polluting coal production to renewable sources such as solar and wind.” In September 2020, according to the same CHN article, “the South African cabinet . . . adopted the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been known on a number of occasions in recent years for supporting a net-zero transition for his country.

On site at power generation in South Africa I can learn the following. The New York Times reports on March 14, 2023 that over the past decade and since the wind/solar fad, the country’s coal-fired power plants had “dilapidated” due to poor maintenance and divestment. Since the turn of the century, the focus has been on developing wind and solar energy to generate electricity. A December 2021 article from the Alexandria Engineering Journal provides a comprehensive overview of renewable energy growth in South Africa. The first demonstration wind project was built by Eskom in 2002. Here is the long list of wind projects that were subsequently completed:

South Africa has not lagged behind on the path to solar energy either. From the same article in the Alexandria Engineering Journal, here is a list of solar projects (undated for some reason, but almost exclusively after 2010):

So wind and sun must now supply the abundant and almost free electricity for everyone? Barely. Here’s a pie chart of the current power generation mix, said to be based on data from the United Nations International Energy Agency:

Yes, after all this effort, wind generation accounts for up to 2% of South Africa’s electricity and solar power 1%. And from CNN, January 18:

South Africans have suffered from power cuts for years, but 2022 was the worst on record, with 205 days of blackouts, as aging coal-fired power plants went out and state-owned utility Eskom struggled to find the money to buy diesel for backup generators. So far this year there have been failures every day. The situation worsened again last week when Eskom announced further cuts due to outages at 11 coal-fired power plant units.

According to CNN, every single home or business faces about 12 hours of power outages every day, generally in increments of about 4 hours at a time and often without notice. It is disgusting to see what pompous international officials are doing to this poor country. But at least we learn what the green energy wall looks like in practice.

UPDATE April 26, 2023: Here are a few useful additions I found while researching this post.

First from the Energy News Report of November 21, 2022:

The World Bank has approved $497 million in loans and other assistance to fund the decommissioning and repurposing of one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants – the 1,000 MW Komati plant in South Africa, owned by its largest public utility Eskom. The Komati facility, which was finally shut down in October, will be repurposed for 220MW of renewable energy, including a 150MW photovoltaic array, 70MW of wind power generation and 150MW of on-site storage batteries, “which together will help improve power quality and grid stability,” it said the Bank.

And second, from Macrotrends, South Africa’s GDP per capita, 1960-2021:

Funny how all that “free” electricity and near-daily blackouts don’t add up to rapidly increasing GDP per capita. Instead, it is the further impoverishment of the already poor people.

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