South Africans are hoping that the State of Disaster announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last night during his State of the Nation address (SONA) will help to alleviate and eventually solve the current electricity crisis.

“The energy crisis is an existential threat to our economy and social fabric,” the president told a sitting of the joint houses.

“We know that without a reliable supply of electricity, businesses cannot grow, assembly lines cannot run, crops cannot be irrigated and basic services are interrupted.

“Without a reliable supply of electricity our efforts to grow an inclusive economy that creates jobs and reduces poverty will not succeed.

“Therefore, our most immediate task is to dramatically reduce the severity of load shedding in the coming months and ultimately end load shedding altogether.

“The people of South Africa want action, they want solutions and they want government to work for them. They simply want to know when a problem like load shedding will be brought to an end.”

Ramaphosa recapped last year’s energy plan, which outlined five key interventions:

* Fix Eskom’s coal-fired power stations and improve the availability of existing supply.

* Enable and accelerate private investment in generation capacity.

* Accelerate procurement of new capacity from renewables, gas and battery storage.

* Unleash businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar.

* Fundamentally transform the electricity sector to achieve long-term energy security. Experts agree that this plan is the most realistic route to end load shedding.

Although he says progress has been made on these interventions, which will result in a massive increase in power to the grid over the next 12 to 18 months, strong central coordination and decisive action is needed to fully implement the plan.

“In a time of crisis, we need a single point of command and a single line of march. Just as we address the cause of the crisis, we also need to address its impact. The crisis has progressively evolved to affect every part of society.

“We must act to lessen the impact of the crisis on farmers, on small businesses, on our water infrastructure and our transport network. The National Disaster Management Centre has consequently classified the energy crisis and its impact as a disaster.

“We are therefore declaring a national state of disaster to respond to the electricity crisis and its effects.”

The president believes the state of disaster will enable the provision of practical measures that we need to take to support businesses in the food production, storage and retail supply chain, including for the rollout of generators, solar panels and uninterrupted power supply.

“Where technically possible, it will enable us to exempt critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from load shedding,” he adds.

“And it will enable us to accelerate energy projects and limit regulatory requirements while maintaining rigorous environmental protections, procurement principles and technical standards.”

Importantly, he points out that the Auditor-General will be brought in to ensure continuous monitoring of expenditure, in order to guard against any abuses of the funds needed to attend to this disaster.

A new Minister of Electricity in the Presidency will be appointed, to assume full responsibility for overseeing all aspects of the electricity crisis response, including the work of the National Energy Crisis Committee, he adds.

“The Minister will focus full-time and work with the Eskom board and management on ending load shedding and ensuring that the Energy Action Plan is implemented without delay.”

The Minister of Public Enterprises will remain the shareholder representative of Eskom and steer the restructuring of Eskom, ensure the establishment of the transmission company, oversee the implementation of the just energy transition programme, and oversee the establishment of an holding company to oversee an SOE (state-owned enterprise) company.

Ramaphosa stresses that the country will continue its just energy transition to a low-carbon economy, but at a pace it can afford and in a manner that ensures energy security.

“We will undertake our just transition in a way that opens up the possibility of new investments, new industrialisation and that, above all, creates new jobs.”

Through the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan, R1,5-trillion will be invested in our economy over the next five years in new frontiers such as renewable energy, green hydrogen and electric vehicles.

“Several new sectors are emerging in the economy, such as major green hydrogen, electric vehicles and fuel cells,” the president says. “A number of projects are already underway, including the development of a new facility by Sasol at Boegoebaai in the Northern Cape, the Prieska Power Reserve in the Free State, and the Hydrogen Valley initiative in Limpopo, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.”

Indeed, the Northern Cape has already attracted over R100-billion in investments in renewable energy projects.

In a bid to improve logistics in the country, Ramaphosa announced the development of a Transnet Roadmap that will oversee the restructuring of Transnet Freight Rail to create a separate Infrastructure Manager for the rail network by October 2023.

One of the biggest challenges to infrastructure investment is the lack of technical skills and project management capacity, he adds.

“Infrastructure South Africa has been allocated R600-million for project preparation, specifically in rural and under-resourced areas.”