12 February 2008 – A holistic approach to the South African energy crisis, says Ian McKechnie, president of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, adding that the country is facing critical problems at all levels of its electricity supply chain.

McKechnie

Ian McKechnie,
president of the
South African Institute of
Electrical Engineers (SAIEE).

In addition to the lack of generation capacity, transmission and distribution networks were "particularly critical" issues that needed to be addressed, McKechnie said.

Several of the recent power cuts experienced in South Africa recently, have been due to failures in the transmission and distribution networks, rather than due to supply shortages.

In an audit released by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) last year, a grim picture was painted of the South African electricity distribution infrastructure, with many networks being found to be "not viable" in the medium term.

Capital expenditure of US$143 million is needed to bring the system up to date, as well as an annual investment of US$60 million. Refurbishment backlogs for utilities have grown since 2005 due to a lack of investment in maintenance and the NERSA report was particularly critical of the state of the distribution networks for small municipalities.

Problems on the transmission and distribution networks have compounded South Africa’s power problems.

"Distribution problems are another crisis in the making, if not already with us," McKechnie said. "Generation is part of a larger problem. What is needed is a broad-based national task team approach."

Speaking at the forum, Eskom’s resource and strategy MD, Steve Lennon said that load shedding would be likely, under high demand situations, until August.