This coal – who needs coal

Sergey Savchuk

While analysts have been keeping a close eye on fluctuations in the cost and speed of pumping natural gas from UGS facilities in Europe, one of the largest countries in Africa has literally plunged into darkness , which is fraught not only with domestic inconveniences, but also with much more far-reaching consequences. Few wrote, but in South Africa at this moment there is a most natural collapse of the energy sector, reflecting a systemic crisis in governance, as well as the extreme interest of some external players.
But let’s go in order.
Eskom, South Africa’s largest state-owned energy company, announced on Wednesday that it has introduced another regime of restrictions on the supply of electricity to residential and industrial consumers. To be precise, this is already the sixth restrictive stage, which means that most of the country sits without electricity for up to eight hours a day.
It is worth adding that the population of the Republic of South Africa is growing very rapidly: a hundred years ago, only seven million lived here, and by the end of 2022, the net increase was 650 thousand people and crossed the line of 60 million citizens. Of course, South Africa is a southern and very warm country, but just to understand the scale of the problem, imagine that Moscow , the entire Moscow region and a couple of regions like Tula and Kaluga are left without electricity for eight hours every day.
Eskom management issued a completely unencouraging statement saying that half of all generating capacity is currently out of service due to breakdowns or complete depletion of fuel. The state monopoly’s production fleet (and Eskom generates 95 percent of all electricity in the country) has a combined capacity of 46 gigawatts, and as of Wednesday evening, 23 of them were actually off the grid. Again, to visualize the scale of the collapse, let’s say that the loss of such a volume of generation is comparable to the simultaneous failure of four Zaporozhye nuclear power plants , which, we recall, with its six power units is the largest and most powerful in Europe.
The results of last year for South Africa in terms of restoring their own energy were disappointing. Rolling blackouts have reportedly been occurring for more than 200 days. We must pay tribute to the President of the country Cyril Ramaphosa , who, like a fairy-tale baron, literally tried to pull Eskom out of the crisis and the debt hole by the hair, but failed to radically turn the tide. At least, this is how the situation is presented by the foreign press, citing the words of Finance Minister Inok Godongwana, who believes that total corruption prevents Eskom from getting out, cutting off all efforts to find and attract investors.
But then oddities and inconsistencies begin, which, upon closer examination of the issue, appear outward, like an elephant through a tulle on a window.
Various foreign experts unanimously say that the South African energy indu-stry is stagnating because it is old, dirty and inefficient. However, even the most superficial check raises doubts about the professionalism or impartiality of the aforementioned experts.
Eskom’s generation is based on a fleet of coal-fired power plants, of which there are currently 16. The oldest of these, the Arnot station, was commissioned in 1975 and has a solid capacity of 2.3 gigawatts. The age seems to be respectable, but only if you do not remember that the United States and a number of European countries right now, by sheer force of will, are extending the operational life of their own nuclear power plants to 80 years, and their average age is confidently approaching 60 years. The main part of South African power plants was built in the late 80s and mid-90s of the last century, that is, according to all the canons, they do not pull on the “oldies” in any way. The same list also includes completely unique objects, for example, coal-fired power plants Matimba and Medupi. Located in the province of Limpopo known to any Russian child, they have a colossal power of 3.7 and 4.7 gigawatts, respectively, and they are powered from adjacent cuts, from where coal is transferred directly to storage bins along conveyor belts. How fuel can run out under such conditions remains a mystery.
Also in service are four gas turbines and even one nuclear power plant – they are covered by seven hydroelectric power plants of medium and low power in working hardships.
There is another very important point.
Johannesburg, following the aggressive paradigm of Western ideology, according to which local natives (whether Russians, Ukrainians or South Africans) a priori cannot be effective managers, has been recruiting all kinds of Varangians to the board of directors for many years. But this did not bring happiness: suffice it to say that 11 general directors were replaced in ten years, and a terrible scandal happened to the last one. André de Ruyter (although he is a native South African) said in mid-December that the situation around Eskom was critical, internal problems were preventing the company from getting out of the crisis and the debt hole, and resigned. Nothing out of the ordinary, if a couple of days later he did not go to the police with a statement that they tried to poison him with cyanide added to a cup of coffee served to him at work.
Separately, it is impressive that the corporation – in fact the only seller of electricity in South Africa – is deeply unprofitable. Official data says that in 2021 the company showed revenue of 13.8 billion, while its losses amounted to 1.3 billion. It is unpleasant, but the amount is not prohibitive at all, and any world bank would easily give a loan to a key state-owned company.
And at this moment, as in a bad detective story, Western environmentalists jump on the stage with bundles of banknotes in their hands received from various funds fighting global warming. The energy system, for a number of reasons brought into a crisis impasse, has already lost half of its capacity, but the government of South Africa is offered not to save it, no. Investors, casually mentioning corruption, roll out a key demand – to completely abandon coal generation and switch to renewable and carbon neutral sources. You heard right: in order to solve the problem of power supply to the state, it is proposed to destroy the basis that provides more than 80 percent of all generation.
At the same time, the idea is gently introduced that public administration is inefficient, because Eskom urgently needs to be privatized, that is, all the country’s energy should be tra-nsferred into private hands. Otherwise, no investment should be expected – such is the fork of conditions.
If at this moment someone thought that we were facing another destructive demarche of the so-called greens, we will hasten to reassure you. Everything is much simpler, because all these environmental funds and organizations are not independent players, but just tools in much more sophisticated hands.
The shadow puppeteers who can afford to run errands for various analytical agencies and environmental activists do not have the task of destroying the energy of South Africa and sending it to the stone age. The goal is much more prosaic. Taken to the extreme, Eskom is supposed to become private, which will literally hold the throat not only of the government, but of the entire population of a country incredibly rich in natural resources. Directly dictate terms to her, otherwise, as they joked in one Soviet film, we will turn off the light. You can bet that in the event of a successful change of ownership, all environmentalists will immediately evaporate, and coal-fired power plants, with minimal technical fine-tuning, will begin to work with triple strength, bringing a steady income into someone’s pocket.
We send all doubters to get acquainted with the data on the extraction and consumption of coal in Asia , where China and India set new historical records, as well as on the return to operation of the most environmentally friendly power plants in Britain. For dess-ert, you can watch how yesterday the German police provocatively kneaded eco-activists with batons, who built barricades and prevented the expansion of the Harzweiler mine.
As they say, this coal – who needs coal.