For months I have been receiving news alerts about the failures and foibles of Eskom, SAs national electricity provider and the daily rolling blackouts. Now it seems, SA may be without power for as much as two weeks straight as the plants and grid shut down for maintenance.
Something we have heard from several specialists is that it takes a power station to start a power station. SA’s hydroelectric station will have to restart the entire system if it shuts down and that will take around two weeks to get the stations into a rolling start-up effect: one power station starting another until they are all up and running.
But, while that happens, the demand has to stay below a certain threshold. Power can’t easily be stored over long periods, and is usually used seconds after it’s produced. Any demand on the grid must be matched by supply. An overload could cause the entire system to trip. This is exactly what happened in the US in 2003 and what may well happen in SA, and soon.
The implications here are immense and illustrative of what we face in the US with our own antiquated centralized power generation system and transmission grid. Like the US, South Africa’s privatized electric generation has scrimped on grid maintenance to yield maximum profits for shareholders and high salaries and bonuses for company executives.
South Africa’s ills are brought on in part by a shortage of coal production brought on in part by the ‘rolling blackouts’, a perpetual catch 22. Like the US, once energy was deregulated, something pushed for by the private corporations, no incentive remained to build new power plants to meet load demands. Like the US, SA will be forced to decentralize which as I believe will be for the good of everyone, especially the planet.