What is the current electricity problem in South Africa?

The situation is reportedly a result of insufficient generating capacity (South Africa produces around 47,000 MW against an installed generation capacity of 52,000 MW), operational failures, maintenance issues and breakdowns at ageing, poorly-maintained power stations.

The South African energy crisis or load shedding is an ongoing period of widespread national blackouts of electricity supply. It began in the later months of 2007 towards the end of Thabo Mbeki’s second term as president, and continues to the present.The South African government-owned national power utility, and primary power generator, Eskom, and various parliamentarians attributed these rolling blackouts to insufficient generation capacity.

According to Eskom and government officials, the solution requires the construction of additional power stations and generators.Corruption and mismanagement of Eskom, most notably during the Jacob Zuma administration, have exacerbated this energy crisis;neglect by Eskom staff in addition to multiple acts of sabotage and the activity of criminal syndicates within Eskom with alleged political connections have also contributed to ongoing power supply problems.


Power station maximum generating capacity as of 2019

  Coal (83%)
  Pumped Storage (6%)
  Gas (5%)
  Nuclear (4%)
  Hydro (2%)
  Wind (0.2%)

In a December 1998 report, analysts and leaders in Eskom and in the South African government predicted that Eskom would run out of electrical power reserves by 2007 unless action was taken to prevent it. To improve power supply and reliability, the 1998 report recommended restructuring Eskom into separate electricity generation and power transmission businesses. Despite the warnings of the 1998 report and requests by Eskom to be allowed to increase capacity, the national government took no action. At the time the Mbeki government was considering the privatisation of Eskom which was cited as a reason why the government took no action. This resulted in Eskom being unable to add additional generating capacity and thereby keep up with increasing national demand for electricity from 2002 onward. Government only granted Eskom permission to significantly expand energy production (by 70%) in 2004.

Below is a timeline of Eskom built major power stations

In South Africa, loadshedding has been a recurring problem for many years, and one of its main causes is the country’s heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants. These plants are aging and often require maintenance, resulting in breakdowns and unplanned outages that reduce the amount of electricity available to the grid.In addition, the country’s coal supply has been unreliable due to operational issues and disruptions caused by labor strikes.

To address this problem, South Africa has been working to shift its energy mix from coal to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. This transition has been slow, but there has been progress in recent years, with the government’s commitment to procuring renewable energy and reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, the shift to renewable energy is not without its challenges. The intermittency of wind and solar power means that power supply can be variable, and the power generated is not always available at times of high demand.

Since 2007, South Africa has experienced multiple periods of loadshedding as the country’s demand for electricity exceeded its ability, notably Eskom’s ability, to supply it. During these periods the power is rationed between different electrical grid areas cross the country and within municipal areas. With areas experiencing power outages typically lasting two to four hours. Although South Africa has a national grid some areas of the country experience more periods of loadshedding than other areas due to differences in local power generation capabilities and difficulties in electrical distribution.

As of December 2019, Eskom have published 8 stages of load shedding, each stage representing the removal of 1000 MW increments of demand by controlled shut down on sections of the supply grid based on a predetermined schedule. Schedules may vary by location. Stage 6 (6000 MW reduction) was implemented the first time on 9 December 2019.

YearPower plantMegawatts
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