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Ed’s note: Words can be powerful, playful or potentially dangerous

The words “turnaround strategy” hold promise and a sense of there being someone in charge who understands what’s at stake.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 25/11/2020

I’d, however, prefer hearing the words “implementation underway”, especially in the realm of state-run organisations, where answering to the whim of political manoeuvring can potentially bin the best of strategies.

Granted, having a high-level strategy is promising given the current untenable affairs of South Africa’s power utility, Eskom. Also, hearing directly from the utility’s CEO, André de Ruyter that he is pushing ahead with unbundling the debt-ridden company, places “turnaround strategy” one peg higher in my estimation.

Having taken up the position a mere 10 months ago, De Ruyter’s private sector influence is clearly motivating his stance of attracting private investment, which is his ultimate goal for the strategy. And rightly so. Even though electricity is an essential service fuelling the economy, the industry cannot survive on public funding alone.

De Ruyter, who appeared in the opening session at this year’s Digital Africa Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa on Tuesday, stressed that 2021 will see delivery on the five focus areas of his turnaround strategy.

The country is on tenterhooks from the impact of the global pandemic combined with ongoing loadshedding, rising electricity tariffs and the power utility syphoning public funds.

It was almost a relief then to hear De Ruyter emphatically state: “By April of next year, we should see a change in the reliability of our generation system. And then by September of 2021, we should see the risk of loadshedding substantially reduced.”

The CEO has a way of being forthright in his conversations but also guarded by using the words “should see” and not “there will be”.

In its heyday, Eskom was the best-run and largest power utility in Africa; it was a company that other utilities aspired to learn from. Now, almost 100 years on, it is still the largest but debt and mismanagement have cost it its foothold.

There is hope yet in the form of a just energy transition, which could save the utility by moving away from the existing model. However, there is much at stake and the move must balance the needs of all affected parties.

In De Ruyter’s words: “I think moving away from a model that’s been around for 97 years…is always regarded as potentially threatening by a variety of stakeholders”.

To De Ruyter’s credit, this doesn’t seem to be holding him back. For example, on his watch, the just energy transition (JET) project office has been created. One of its objectives is to evaluate green financing options that could help accelerate the deployment of renewables and facilitate the repurposing of the utility’s older coal-fired power plants. This sector’s full value chain employes thousands of workers whose jobs are at risk.

The market should not feel threatened but invigorated to innovate on the delivery of a just energy transition. The electricity supply industry has changed in the past decade, which is demonstrated in another long-standing brand evolving.

The industry’s home away from home and eagerly anticipated ‘happening’ each year, African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa announced its new image and name, Enlit Africa.

The announcement was made just minutes before the keynote session with De Ruyter, and set a high note for the stage.

As Enlit Africa, the new brand will deliver multiple channels to the energy markets of Africa. It will aim to connect the stakeholders in the industry, bring insight and intelligence available to stakeholders at the click of a button and all in partnership with ESI Africa.

I’m excited about this new look and feel for the event and would love to hear from you what you think of the new name and vision.

Until next week.

P.S. Hunt for the Golden Ticket. I managed to spot the ticket yesterday during the Digital African Utility Week & POWERGEN Africa sessions—did you?

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.