Lights Out? The Future of Energy in the Hands of the New Minister

South Africa’s new electricity minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, has a challenging task ahead of him. While curtailing load shedding, or rolling blackouts, is a top priority, he must also fulfill the already-in-place “energy action plan,” which includes several crucial interventions. The plan’s primary focus is to resolve issues with Eskom, the country’s power utility, and enhance the accessibility of the current electricity supply. Encouraging private investment in generation capability, making procurement of new capacity from renewable energy sources faster, empowering businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar energy, and implementing a fundamental transformation of the electricity sector are also essential parts of the plan.

In addition to these tasks, the minister must deal with onboarding maintenance initiatives, smoothing procurement bottlenecks, and communicating progress, if any, regarding Eskom to the public, among other things. As the executive overseeing the energy crisis, Ramokgopa will have the unique ability to invoke powers granted under the disaster management act when he sees it fit to reduce red tape and fast-track solutions.

Ramokgopa plans to tackle the energy crisis head-on by meeting with Eskom’s board and looking at individual failing units as the first point of improvement. He will then meet with relevant stakeholders and draft a more detailed implementation plan. He aims to bring back online all 81 units meant to be operating to ensure that South Africa has a stable baseload of power.

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The electricity minister will act as an intermediary between the government, Eskom, new-generation producers, and other relevant stakeholders. He is also expected to assist in the processes that private entities have already undergone to improve their electricity supply.

The roadmap under the energy action plan provides a timeline to end load shedding. If the proposed projects are successful, South Africa could reduce the occurrence of load shedding over the next 12 to 18 months. However, the energy crisis is a monumental task, and Ramokgopa said it would take time. Nonetheless, he is confident that load shedding will end.

Ramokgopa’s appointment has faced criticism from political parties and business leaders for bloating an already full cabinet. However, he has defended his position as resulting from a need for a laser-focused department that “lives and breathes the problem.”

In summary, the new electricity minister faces several challenges beyond load shedding. To fulfill the “energy action plan,” he must address issues with Eskom, encourage private investment in generation capability, make procurement of new capacity from renewable energy sources faster, empower businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar energy, and implement a fundamental transformation of the electricity sector. He also needs to deal with onboarding maintenance initiatives, smoothing procurement bottlenecks, and communicating progress to the public. Nonetheless, Ramokgopa is confident that load shedding will end, and he has the ability to invoke powers granted under the disaster management act to reduce red tape and fast-track solutions.