Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin companies with renewable and microgrid technologies may be able to help South Africa meet its power needs.
A lack of adequate electricity in South Africa has forced the country’s main utility company to institute repeated “load shedding”—or rotating blackouts—that have hurt businesses, increased crime, and created water shortages in some areas.
According to Africanews, 2022 has been one of the worst years for outages, with power interruptions on more than 200 days as state-owned Eskom—which supplies more than 90% of the country’s power—could not produce enough electricity from its aging power plants.
Widespread blackouts have occurred “multiple times a day” as Eskom struggled to prevent the collapse of the electricity grid, CNN said, “affecting every part of South African society.”
When the electricity is shut off, pump stations can’t provide water, and small businesses without backup power have had to close and lay off employees, the CNN report said. Meanwhile, food prices are rising as farm crops have spoiled and livestock have died because the outages have cut off cooling and ventilation systems—and crime is on the rise as home security systems can’t operate, traffic lights go out, and police stations are left in the dark.
Some companies are investing in solar panels or backup generators in order to stay open, but others told CNN they’ve been deterred by prohibitive costs or long waits for solar installation. What’s more, Eskom is planning to raise its electric rates 18% in 2023.
Decentralized power projects, or those that are not tied to the national grid, could play a major role in closing South Africa’s electricity supply gap and modernizing its energy sector. Thanks in part to recent declines in the cost of renewable energy and advances in battery storage technology, decentralized energy solutions are now a viable alternative—though permitting and regulatory issues still can pose challenges.
Nevertheless, about 1.1 gigawatts of small-scale solar power has been installed by commercial and industrial firms, according to the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association. For example, mining companies Anglo Platinum and Sibanye-Stillwater are building their own solar power plants.
Green energy options—such as solar, wind, hydro, and even hydrogen power—are also expected to gain momentum.
Wisconsin companies with technologies that can provide alternative sources of electricity could offer helpful solutions for residents and businesses in South Africa as they try to cope with the unreliable power supply.