January 25, 2008

Government declares electricity emergency

At the end of a week of unprecedented power cuts across southern Africa, South Africa's Cabinet has declared a "national electricity emergency" and announced energy-saving measures including solar power and more use of gas. In a statement, the Cabinet said President Thabo Mbeki “has accepted that this government got its timing wrong” in waiting until 2004 before giving the country’s main electricity generator, Eskom, the mandate to embark on urgent, large-scale programmes to build more power stations. “The underlying problem,” the government said, “is the very significant rise in demand, particularly over the past few years, resulting from an economy working at full capacity and the rising standards of living, with close on 3.5 million homes having access to electricity from 1994. In a sense we are the victims of our own success.” It appeared from the statement that power outages would continue for some time: it said it aimed to “minimize… disruptive unplanned outages” and that its measures “will give us much more comfort within a two-year period.” But the government urged South Africans to seize the opportunity to use electricity more efficiently: “The growth of South Africa’s economy at the current healthy levels can continue if we change our behaviour and become more energy efficient.” There was no threat to the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament, it said. “There is no question of stopping contracted projects or freezing any new projects. What will happen is more systematic scheduling and evaluation of projects.” The price of electricity – until now inexpensive by world standards – would rise significantly, but the effects of increases on the poor would be minimised.
Among the government’s new proposals are: Promoting solar water heaters and solar-power traffic and street lights; introducing liquefied petroleum gas (LP gas); distributing energy-efficient light bulbs; introducing power rationing; putting pressure on the coal industry, which is exporting its best quality coal, to provide local power stations with a higher quality coal. (IRIN)

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