Rainbow nation sks. energy

South Africa is dealing with an acute shortage of energy, and they are furthermore stuck up with this for years.
South of the Sahara, only one of four Africans has access to electricity. On the countryside even less. In fourteen of the 48 countries, only one on twenty villagers has access to electricity. The economic growth of the last years – 6 to 6,9 percent – should act as a remedy. South Africa has always been one of the front runners, but it seems they are paying for it. After the apartheid, the nation has invested too little in her power stations. The lack of electricity threatens to slow down the economic growth of this year. According to Eskom, the South African electricity supplier, the energy problems will keep on lasting for many more years.
Diesel generator
Since end of last year, also the rich South African experience the disadvantages of living without electric power. In the suburbs, several security cameras fall out, gates won’t open anymore, elevators stick suddenly, traffic lights refuse to work and cause big traffic chaos, food rottens in the refrigerator…Because of the fact that the public utilities of Eskom – which supplies 95 percent of the South African electricity – aren’t able to cope with the increasing demand, South Africa is dealing with frequently organized black-outs. Those who don’t have disposal of an diesel generator or other power supplies during a breakdown, fall without airco, hot water or security camera.
South Africa produces half of all electricity south of the Sahara and exports five percent of it. For example Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland are dependent on the African giant for half of their energy. But it is a giant on loam feet. Since end of last year, the power breaks succeeded one after the other.At the beginning of this year, the mining industry even had to cope with a week without electricity, with severe production losses as consequence.
In an attempt to take care of the energy shortage, Eskom announced a large investment plan. Over ten years, they want to increase the production capacity with fifty percent. Besides this, Eskom enforced restrictions for big companies and used tricks such as load shedding until the end of April: in turn a district was put in the dark while another district was getting power. Only this way, the electricity grid could handle the increasing demand. To finance the construction of new power stations, Eskam requested at the national control mechanism for a tariff rise of 53 percent. This happened with great dissatisfaction of the consumers, who protested in unison. Roger Baxter of the Business Unity South  Africa warned that the tariff rise would cost 55.000 jobs. Perhaps it won’t come to that, but the circumstances are that the price of energy in many African countries is kind of low which is little attractive for investors. A tariff rise seems to be inevitable.
Sub-saharan Africa knows the highest growth numbers since decades. But the energy sector falls behind, so is written by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in his Regional Economic Outlook 2008 for Sub-saharan Africa. To hold on the growth in the region, the capacity of energy has to expand seriously. ‘Unfortunately,’ so is stated by the Monetary Fund, ‘the yearly growth of the capacity is fluctuating around only 2,9 percent since 1980.’ As a consequence, thirty of 48 countries south of the Sahara, had to deal with energy crisises.
The 48 countries together have a production capacity of 63 gigawatt, equally as Spain. Leaving South Africa out of consideration, the whole region only comes to 28 gigawatt, which is comparable with Argentina. One on four power stations in Sub-saharan Africa is out of use. However, Africa has disposal – apart from gas, oil, wood, coal and uranium – of an inexhaustible source of energy: hydropower. The continent is being cut by the Nile, the Congo, the Niger, the Volta and the Zambezi. Congo is able is able to generate fourty percent of all hydropower in the region with dams and hydro-electric power stations. But today, only eight percent of the African hydro-electric potential is being used.
Mega projects
In 1972, Inga 1 was taken into use, which is a dam on the Congo river more than two hundred kilometers away from Kinshasa. A decade later, Inga 2 was built. But mismanagement, war and corruption disturbed the project which costed billions. Today, the dams barely produce a fourth of their production capacity, for example for the mining industry in Katanga. Mid April banks, companies and African administrators came together to breath new life into Inga. Only for the building of Inga 3, five billion dollar would be needed. The mega project Grand Inga even costs more, but the financing doesn’t get on. There is plenty of energy but a lack of electricity. This is according to the IMF, one of the great paradoxes of Africa. ‘In most Sub-saharan countries, the energy market is just too small to be able to profit from large-scale energy production.’ There are several cross-border energy pools, such as the Southern African Power Pool. In there, energy is being exchanged and countries buy energy which is generated somewhere else. ‘But for now there is no pool which is commercially interesting’, so is said by the IMF. Great investments only become interesting from a certain production capacity, but the electricity grid is often not able to handle this. Thermal power stations get maximum profit from their size beginning from four hundred megawatt and only fourteen of the 48 countries have an electricity grid which can handle this.
By shortage of cross-border trade, most countries change over to very expensive, small-scale energy supplies, such as wood-burning stoves or diesel generators. In East and West Africa, oil generators create a third of all the energy. Companies smell money by making the stoves more efficient. Also small-scale projects, fed with gas or solar energy, offer a solution.
To draw the necessary privat investors for mega projects such as the Grand Inga, not only efforts for tariff rises and additional legislation need to be made. Something has to be done on the enormous production losses and other financial losses at the African public utilities, who are most of the time even not able to recuperate their costs. Electricity companies in Sub-saharan Africa often have to cope with a production loss of twenty percent, far above the livable ten percent. So far there was mostly a lack of policy. And this as well as at the national governments, who failed to invest in new production capacity – in case they really had the means at all – as with the international donors.

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