Energy expert warns of a rise in DIY electricity

A roadmap for South Africa’s energy future – presented at the African Utility Week conference and expo at the CTICC in Cape Town earlier this month – warned of a rise in do-it-yourself-electricity and ultimately the possible collapse of the country’s energy grid.

Energy expert Ted Blom presented his roadmap to delegates at the utility conference, and his warning was in sharp contrast to Eskom interim chief executive Phakamani Hadebe’s address earlier in the day.

Hadebe told delegates that Eskom plans to play a bigger role in Africa. “Energy is the lifeblood of Africa and it is a human right. It is not optional. It is essential.  It is for this reason we should see ourselves as not representing utilities or countries but the continent.”

Blom however sketched a far more dire picture for Eskom locally.

“We are sitting with a broken energy department,” he said, citing a litany of problems including corruption and unethical leadership at the power utility and the country’s energy department.

Blom referred to the 27 renewable energy projects signed with independent private producers last month. He highlighted that Eskom, due to contractual constraints, has become the “supplier of last resort” with serious consequences for its revenue generation.

“Even under the new administration there is still a lack of funds and lack of professional direction because the new Eskom board has no real energy experience and members are guided by those that plundered Eskom and drove it into the ground.

He said the situation under the new administration was like “changing chairs on the Titanic”.

“The bottom line is South Africans are not getting the cheapest energy,” he said. “Given this mess and the lack of energy reliability we are going to see a very liberated energy sector in this part of the world. This means people are going to employ survival strategies and will do what they have to do to survive the electricity crisis because it is not over yet.”

Blom said in terms of his roadmap for South Africa’s energy future the country will see a rise in what he calls DIY-electricity.

“We are going to have a situation where households and light industries that are not energy intensive will do their own thing because their needs are not met now. They can do it far more cheaply if they do it on their own in a collaborative way, so micro grids are bound to explode.”

It is not all doom and gloom, however. Blom said he foresees massive technological breakthroughs in of DIY-electricity and new energy storage solutions. He warned however: “With the lack of pressure on utilities we will see a cost runaway and a dilapidated grid with no money to fix it and eventually a meltdown. It might happen in one day or in 10 years,” he said.