South Africa's electricity crisis is a multi-faceted problem that cannot be properly resolved by addressing only certain aspects.
This is according to South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) president Ian McKechnie, who says a holistic, comprehensive solution – that looks at the complete electricity supply chain, from generation and transmission, through to distribution and consumption – is required.
He says the problems in South Africa's electricity supply system extend beyond the current generation capacity constraints which have been acutely experienced in the past month.
“While these events have served to focus attention on particular issues such as the generation capacity and production-related problems, we must seize the moment and urgently centre on the bigger picture.”
He adds that, in the present situation, there is so much focus on the generation and consumption levels and issues, that there is a real danger that other critical matters, such as the crisis at the distribution level are being neglected.
McKechnie says it is important that all the links in the supply chain must function properly to achieve reliable electricity supply.
He says the SAIEE is calling for the immediate formation of an independent task team with stakeholder representation to investigate the full electricity supply chain and ensure that comprehensive, achievable and viable solutions are put in place at all levels.
“Generation capacity issues, while critical, form only part of the complete electricity supply chain. Nothing less than a properly coordinated, integrated and holistic approach is required to effectively address the challenges of the electricity supply situation.
"A broad-based and independent national task team is needed, with government support and sponsorship, mandated to urgently assess the entire electricity supply chain as well as to perform a critical review of the plans and the capabilities of the various role players.
“Current initiatives, including the Eskom generation recovery teams and the DME's proposed draft emergency electricity regulations, as well as research outcomes like the distribution survey recently completed for NERSA (the national energy regulator), must be considered in an integrated manner as part of this review process.
"Solutions also have to incorporate the constraints and challenges caused by other factors. These include the protracted restructuring process in the distribution industry plus resultant effects, the multiple role players through the supply chain, and the availability of skills at all levels in the engineering team throughout the supply chain.”
McKechnie notes that the formation of such an independent task team will also assist to re-establish local and international confidence in the future of electricity supply in South Africa.
He confirms that the SAIEE’s stance is to add value and work constructively with all the role players to creatively formulate solutions from an engineering and economic perspective. An Institute team had, for example, compiled a detailed and considered response to the request for public comment on the draft Electricity regulations for the prohibition of certain practices in the electricity supply and compulsory norms and standards for reticulation services – issued by the Department of Minerals & Energy.
“We need to apply the resourcefulness that we all, as South Africans, have become known for around the world," says McKechnie. "Only in this way will we achieve workable and sustainable solutions.
"We also need to creatively examine the problems from all angles and perspectives including revisiting the potential of concepts like country time zones, daylight savings time etc. Such matters must be explored in combination with measures such as staggered working hours and other demand side management strategies to determine their potential to provide a practical contribution to load shifting and demand reduction."