The implementation of Stage 6 load-shedding in late June and early July should surely be viewed as a tipping point in the electricity crisis.
True, the unlawful and unacceptably violent labour protests merely exacerbated an entrenched reality.
Nevertheless, Stage 6 shifted the national psyche decisively from one of grudging resignation to one of palpable anger.
It drove home just how unacceptable living with intensifying load-shedding is for both the economy and society.
It also raised genuine fears that, unless something changes, a national blackout is no longer unthinkable.
In other words, something has to give!
In this instance, it has become beyond obvious that those who have to give are the politicians, policymakers and technocrats who are still hankering after an unworkable ‘Make Eskom Great Again’ solution to the crisis.
In other words, those who still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Eskom’s neglected and aging coal fleet will somehow miraculously return to an energy availability factor of above 70%, when the utility is struggling to meet 60%.
Those demonstrating a sluggishness in updating an Integrated Resource Plan that not only underestimates the size of the deficit, but includes artificial constraints on the amount of variable renewables that can be built yearly, includes outdated technology costs and that still has an allocation for new coal that cannot be funded and for an imported hydro scheme that is far too complex to meet the 2030 schedule envisaged.
Those who still believe it’s acceptable to claim no responsibility for the deepening crisis, despite having their hands on all the policy levers that, if pulled, can shift the trajectory decisively for the better.
That’s not to claim that load-shedding can be ended with the flick of a switch. It cannot, as all the solutions require time to implement.
The good news, however, is that there are technically viable near-term solutions available that are both cost competitive and future-proof.
In fact, technically, the fix is relatively simple.
If enabled, solar photovoltaics can provide the quickest and cheapest new electrons at scale and on a distributed basis, be it on the rooftops of shops, factories or homes, or at utility scale.
If facilitated, onshore wind will take a bit longer to build, but is nearly as price competitive, and often produces more at night, including during the current peak periods.
Then there are battery, pumped and green-hydrogen storage options, which can complement these variable generators. Batteries are relatively quick to deploy and provide various network strengthening benefits, pumped storage will take longer, but offers longer- duration storage, while green hydrogen will not only yield a new energy transition commodity, but surplus green electricity.
This solar-wind-storage solution is the only one that can begin extricating the country from its current bind without posing unacceptable stranded-asset, tariff or environmental risks.
They are also solutions that can be financed and implemented by multiple participants, allowing ‘many hands to make light work’.
This can only happen, however, with supportive policy, underpinned by steadfast political will.