So much attention is being focused on the electricity generation industry, that the distribution industry may be further neglected, industry experts have warned.

“It is very easy for us to take the eyes off the electricity distribution industry, and concentrate on the generation side, but we have a time-bomb ticking in the distribution sector,” said National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) CEO Smunda Mokoena this week.  Mokoena said of particular concern were quality of supply issues and the ability of the network to cope with growth and development.

“A distribution summit that was held a few months ago indicated that there is a backlog of some R20-billion – where is that money going to come from?” he asked.

“The Electricity Distribution Industry (EDI) restructuring process has been very slow. We still don’t have finality on the legislation required for EDI restructuring, and I’m actually more concerned on the distribution side of the business than I am actually on the generation side of the business,” added Chamber of Mines chief economist Roger Baxter.

Lack of skills was the main problem, said SAIEE past president Ian McKechnie.

 “It is clear that operational and maintenance conditions and the key support planning issues are significantly influenced and impacted [on] by the insufficient competent staffing levels,” he said.

Surveys conducted by NERSA have indicated disturbing shortfalls in resources and skills, and one survey found that only one third of municipalities have sufficiently competent staff.

“Fifteen percent of the distribution networks were found to be in an acceptable condition. Adequate maintenance plans were only found at 43% of them, and acceptable technical asset registers were only found in 23% of them,” McKechnie reported.