South Africa’s Dark Age: Wind & Solar Obsession Delivering Blackouts Every Single Day

Trashing coal-fired power plants and pretending to replace their output with wind and solar guarantees blackouts and mass load shedding. For the uninitiated, it’s all about sunset and the weather.

South Africa is a case in point. In little more than a decade, the ANC’s policy of backing wind turbines and solar panels with taxpayer subsidies – while simultaneously wrecking the ability of coal-fired generators to make a profit – has led to the inevitable destruction of what was once a relatively reliable and affordable power supply. The policy is deliberately designed to drive coal-fired generators out of business; over time they have been run into the ground with little cash available for repairs or maintenance,  let alone routine refurbishment.

The perfectly predictable result is blackouts and mass load shedding, on an almost daily basis, every time the sun sets and/or calm weather sets in. 2022 set new records in that regard, with 205 straight days of rolling blackouts suffered across South Africa. So far 2023 is no better, with major outages every single day.

As Francis Menton details below, none of this would have happened had the ANC left their country’s coal-fired generators alone and free to dispatch power, according to demand. Instead, an obsession with chaotically intermittent wind and solar has South Africans living in a new very Dark Age.

South Africa And The Green Energy Wall
Manhattan Contrarian
Francis Menton
25 April 2023

It’s obvious to any person with the faculty of critical thinking that intermittent renewable “green” energy will never work to power a modern economy. So as various U.S. states and foreign countries press forward on their crash programs to go fully “green” with their electricity generation, the next obvious question immediately arises: who will be first to hit the green energy “wall”? That is, which state or country will be the first to find that without enough reliable generation its electricity system no longer works? And how will that impact the population?

In previous posts I have examined the progress toward energy disaster of various wealthy jurisdictions that have embarked on this supposed transition to renewable electricity. For example, here is a December 17, 2021 post titled “Which Country Or U.S. State Will Be The First To Hit The Renewable Energy Wall?” That post focused on California and Germany. My March 15, 2023 post, “Countdown To New York’s Rendezvous With Energy Impossibility,” considered New York as another candidate for the first to hit the wall.

But let’s now look at South Africa. South Africa is one of the wealthiest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is not saying much. The World Bank gives its per capita GDP as about $7000 for 2021. (For comparison, the U.S. per capita GDP is around $70,000. while wealthier European countries like Germany, the UK and France have per capita GDP in the range of about $40,000 – $50,000.).

Unlike wealthy Western countries, South Africa is far from completely developed, and has never achieved a fully-built-out electrical grid. The country has a legacy electricity infrastructure, almost entirely based on coal generation, dating from prior to the accession to power of the ANC in 1994. But South Africa needs a big increase in its electricity supply to become a fully-developed economy. Its population has grown rapidly (from about 43 million in 1994 to 60 million today). Meanwhile its electric utility, Eskom, is heavily indebted with little further ability to raise private capital. Thus the country substantially relies on Western aid to support and expand its supply of electricity. As an example of what is occurring in the realm of Western aid for electricity infrastructure, the World Bank stopped financing coal power plants in 2013 and stopped financing oil and gas extraction projects in 2017.

And thus South Africa has become a mostly-willing guinea pig for the green dreams of Western elites. According to Climate Home News from September 19, 2020, the South African government put out a so-called Integrated Resources Plan in 2019 “outlin[ing] a transition from polluting coal generation to renewable sources like solar and wind.” In September 2020, according to the same CHN piece, “the South African cabinet . . . approved a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is on record on multiple occasions over the past several years as supporting a Net Zero transition for his country.

On the ground in electricity generation in South Africa, here’s what I can learn. The New York Times reports on March 14, 2023 that over the past decade plus, since the wind/solar fad took hold, the country’s coal power plants have been allowed to become “dilapidated” due to poor maintenance and disinvestment. Meanwhile, the focus going back as far as the turn of the century has moved to developing wind and solar resources to provide electricity. A December 2021 piece from the Alexandria Engineering Journal provides a comprehensive overview of the growth in renewables in South Africa. The initial demonstration wind project was constructed by Eskom in 2002. Here is the lengthy list of wind projects subsequently completed:

Nor has South Africa lagged in the march to solar energy. From the same piece in the Alexandria Engineering Journal, here is a list of solar projects (for some reason not including the years, but they are almost entirely post-2010):

So surely by now the wind and sun must be providing abundant and nearly-free electricity for all? Hardly. Here is a pie graph of the current electricity generation mix, stated to be based on data from the UN’s International Energy Agency:

Yes, after all of that effort, the wind generation is up to a full 2% of South Africa’s electricity, and solar 1%. And, from CNN, January 18:

South Africans have endured power cuts for years but 2022 was the worst on record with 205 days of rolling blackouts, as aging coal-fired power plants broke down and state-owned power utility Eskom struggled to find the money to buy diesel for emergency generators. So far this year, there have been outages every day. The situation worsened again last week when Eskom said it would implement more cuts because of breakdowns at 11 coal-fired generating units.

According to CNN, any individual home or business is getting hit with about 12 hours a day without power, generally coming in increments of about 4 hours at a time, and often without notice. It’s disgusting to watch what the self-important international functionaries are doing to this poor country. But at least we’re learning what the green energy “wall” looks like in practice.

UPDATE, April 26, 2023: Here are a couple of useful addenda that I came across in the process of research for this post.

First, from Energy News Report, November 21, 2022:

The World Bank has approved $497 million in loans and other assistance to finance decommissioning and repurposing of one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants—the 1,000-MW Komati facility in South Africa that is owned by its largest public power utility, Eskom. The Komati plant, permanently shut down in October, will be repurposed for 220 MW of renewable energy, including a 150-MW solar photovoltaics facility, 70 MW of wind power generation and150 MW of onsite storage batteries, “which together will help to improve the quality of electricity supply and grid stability” said the bank.

And second, from Macrotrends, South Africa GDP per capita, 1960-2021:

Funny how all that “free” electricity and near-daily blackouts don’t lead to rapidly increasing per capita GDP. Instead, it’s the further impoverishment of already-poor people.
Manhattan Contrarian

7 thoughts on “South Africa’s Dark Age: Wind & Solar Obsession Delivering Blackouts Every Single Day

  1. The coal-fired plants don’t need to “be run down” – they are falling apart all by themselves. SA is currently getting just under 50% of its installed generation capacity, due to continuing breakdowns. Now, it MAY be because on the ANC takeover of the electrical system, all undesirable engineers (wrong skin colour, you see) were sacked. But anyway, the breakdowns in generation are ongoing and extremely irritating. How to fix this? Well, the ANC government has plans (always) but somehow never manages to carry them out, so everyone who can afford it is installing some backup (solar PV, gas, or something).
    Old joke – what did South Africa use before candles? Electricity!

  2. SA was once a leader in nuclear technology taking over from Germany. And 2nd largest in medical isotope production (the hypocrisy of AU’s anti nuclear power policy as an isotope producer, & not even getting our own U in AUKUS, while being the only member expected to pay for the new nuclear submarines that will be used for UKUS purposes; take a look at who will be at the coronation of you know who & participants in Talisman Sabre exercises).

    A spreadsheet of UN members, the EU (include UK), NATO & associated countries like AU & JP, etc, those under the IMF & BIS (the banker’s bank: check its creation history & purpose pre WWII) and something becomes very obvious; no spoiler but the UN & World Bank might have some location utility problems, apart from their historical leadership & failure to achieve their rolls, if they don’t conform to expectations.

    SA was going to reinvigorate its nuclear power industry, but unfortunately like countries that subsidise RE, social security, housing & everything else that supports welfare of the majority, has declined. How could it not?! In AU we have increased childcare subsidy so in effect compulsory ‘education’ starts at 3 years of age.

    The common two party political system is like an old married couple who bicker in public, yet continue to sleep together.
    It’s not that politician’s are really stupid, but they are initially chosen for their loyalty to the system. And unlike ordinary people, don’t believe they are.

    Clean electric transport is a good thing (AU has no plans for high speed rail; how’s that for dark age thinking in the wide brown land? Hmm. It might need reliable electricity supply). But being practical, farmers couldn’t wait to get rid of windmills.

  3. In Australia our fearless energy czar Chris Bowen is hell bent on achieving renewables nirvana.
    It’s a pity that Bowen and his cohorts don’t want to face the reality of his goals. Sth Africa is an example of that goal.
    BTW, the liberals aren’t much better, if at all.
    A pox of both our major political parties in Australia.

  4. California allows electricity consumers to tell their power company that they want all their electricity to come from “green” sources. So here’s what ought to happen: When the green sources fail, they’re the first to get blacked out.

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