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Solar power should be the ANC's top priority

A closer look at the key priorities identified by the ANC at its 55th National Conference reveals an interesting ranking order; with one that is inherently contradictory; one that has an irrational grouping; and at least one glaring omission. A slightly edited and more succinct version of the key priorities is as follows:

  • Specific initiatives and programmes to deepen the renewal of the ANC;

  • Accelerate the resolution of the energy crisis to end load-shedding;

  • Boldly mobilise social partners around economic reconstruction and recovery in order to increase job creation, investment and empowerment;

  • Improve delivery of basic services

  • Improve the maintenance of infrastructure

  • Strengthen the fight against crime and corruption

In a country as diverse in every conceivable respect as South Africa – be it language, religion, political affiliation, or skills profile, it is nigh impossible for government to expect consensus on all of its policy objectives. In the case of resolving the energy crisis, however, government will have the support of every citizen (and also the millions of seemingly permanent visitors from the rest of the continent).

The policy priority that contradicts itself is related to the intention to increase job creation, investment and empowerment. The latter element of this laudable and obviously important objective is an ideological one and will, in certain cases, thwart the quest for higher employment and private sector investment, due to the difficulty in meeting racially-based quotas when shortages of certain high level skills prevail.

The one that apparently eluded the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is the issue of upgrading and expanding the country’s infrastructure. Reviving public sector expenditure on infrastructure maintenance is necessary, but since the ANC came to power, an additional 18 million citizens and an estimated 3 million migrants are now utilising the country’s rapidly decaying infrastructure, especially electricity and roads.

Ending electricity rationing

Returning to the quest for an eventual end to load-shedding, two crucially important measures need to be taken by government for any chance of success over the next two years.

The first is to concentrate on solar photovoltaic (PV) installations and to ensure that these are procured on a regional basis, as opposed to a concentration in the most favourable geographical areas. The reason is quite simple, namely the fact that solar PV needs to be linked to the national electricity grid via Eskom’s substations, which are located throughout the country and not only in remote places where the sun always shines.

Secondly, the Department of Mineral Resources & Energy (DMRE) should not have authority over the operations of the Independent Power Procurement (IPP) office. The glaring incompetence and lethargy of the DMRE is one of the main reasons for the energy crisis in South Africa. Several years ago, at the height of state capture, a High Court Judge exposed the then Department of Mineral Resources as an irrational institution with a high degree of incompetence that lacks energy in resolving issues and establishes a case for its own substitution.

Furthermore, the DMRE’s obsession with coal has become embarrassingly naïve. It has become clear that serious design flaws at the Medupi and Kusile power stations, combined with shoddy workmanship, lack of sophisticated security systems, sabotage, vandalism and a lack of technical & management expertise in certain areas, will continue to place pressure on sufficient electricity generation from coal-fired plants for many years to come.

The DMRE was also instrumental in the abrupt halting of the country’s renewable energy programme, obviously in support of Mr Jacob Zuma’s quest for an unaffordable nuclear energy deal with Russia – valued at more than R1.1 trillion. Mr Nhlanhla Nene, Minister of Finance at the time, was fired for pointing out the absurdity and fiscal unaffordability of this project.

In the absence of sufficient energy, roads will continue to crumble, hospitals will not be able to switch on life-supporting equipment, skills development will be thwarted, food insecurity will set in - leading to malnutrition, whilst economic production will be severely curtailed.

The economy simply cannot wait for government’s dismal failures over a period of two decades in expediting the expansion of renewable energy. Rapid investment in solar power on an unprecedented scale is the short-term answer to limit load-shedding.

The case for solar power taking the lead is hardly contestable. The sun, directly or indirectly, is the source of all the energy available on earth. According to the US Department of Energy, the amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in 90 minutes is enough to accommodate the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year. Solar power also represents a formidable strategy to counter global warming and environmental decay.

Harnessing the immense power of the sun via close cooperation between the private sector, the IPP and Eskom, including a further healthy dose of deregulation, could well put paid to excessive load-shedding within a couple of years.

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