South Africa’s businesses marooned by rolling blackouts

A freight train leaves the Eskom Power Plant in Hendrina, South Africa. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 16 December 2019

South Africa’s businesses marooned by rolling blackouts

  • The crisis suddenly worsened this week as Eskom rationed 6,000 megawatts from the national power grid, prompting the worst cuts in the country so far

JOHANNESBURG: As if choreographed by a puppet master, stores along the aisle of a Johannesburg mall hurriedly shut their doors one by one as soon as power outages strike slap-bang in the middle of the day.

“We have to close the store immediately because people can steal ... the card machines also don’t work without electricity,” a 23-year-old clothing retail worker told AFP.

Since 2008, state utility Eskom has sporadically implemented rolling blackouts — rationing up to 4,000 megawatts at a time — to help prevent a collapse of the electricity grid, a process known as “load shedding.”

But this week, the crisis suddenly worsened as Eskom rationed 6,000 megawatts from the national power grid, prompting the worst cuts in the country so far.

The power outages have caused many businesses to lose out on hours of sales during the peak festive season, threatening an already fragile economy.

“Most of them have to close shop as they can’t afford alternative solutions such as generators and renewable energy such as solar systems,” the CEO of the Black Business Council, Kganki Matabane, told AFP.

Across town about 60 km south of Johannesburg in the crucial industrial manufacturing hub known as the Vaal Triangle, industrialists reel from the unstable supply of power.

“The big industries that start up furnaces lose an obscene amount of money when there are blackouts,” said Jaco Verwey, vice chairman of the Golden Triangle Chamber of Commerce.

“Firstly they lose money on downtime. Secondly, they lose money on restarting again because they need more electricity to restart their furnaces.”

The organization boasts around 450 member businesses, 33 of which pay a combined electricity bill of 100 million rands ($6.8 million) a month.

Businesses, big and small, are plunged daily into darkness for nearly five hours at a time, sometimes even multiple times a day.

Large underground mines, among the largest contributors to GDP, suspended some shifts this week to avoid trapping miners in the belly of the earth when the electricity cuts out.

AngloAmerican spokesman Sibusiso Tshabalala told AFP that its “South African operations have been impacted by Eskom load shedding.”

“While we have response plans ... this is not a sustainable solution as it is costly to run generators,” he said, adding that sustained power outages resulted in reduced revenues and production.

Hundreds of tourists, hoping to catch the aerial cableway at the top of Table Mountain, were left stranded for nearly three hours this week after load shedding escalated to stage 6.

Even telecommunications networks were forced to beef up on backup power to maintain customers’ connectivity during load shedding.

African giant MTN reportedly spends up to 100 million rand on battery generators for every three days of electricity blackouts.

But for some, like retailer Shoprite, the outages have resulted a spike in sales of alternative energy and lighting products such as candles, paraffin, gas bottles, emergency lights and kettle braais.


Japan receives first shipment of blue ammonia from Saudi Aramco, SABIC

Updated 28 September 2020

Japan receives first shipment of blue ammonia from Saudi Aramco, SABIC

JAPAN: Saudi Aramco and Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics (IEEJ) announced the first shipment of blue ammonia from Saudi Arabia to Japan on Sunday.

The shipment, which was in partnership with Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), contained forty tons of high-grade blue ammonia, and is meant for use in zero-carbon power generation.

Saudi Aramco said in a statement that shipping challenges were overcome with 30 tons of CO2 captured during the process designated for use in methanol production at one of SABIC’s facilities and another 20 tons of captured CO2 being used for enhanced oil recovery at Aramco’s field.

Mitsubishi Corporation, which is representing IEEJ’s study team, is working with SABIC to monitor the transport logistics in partnership with JGC Corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering, Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co and UBE Industries.

“The shipment is considered the first around the world, and it represents a crucial opportunity for Aramco to introduce hydrocarbons as a reliable and affordable source of low-carbon hydrogen and ammonia,” said Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, Chief Technology Officer, Saudi Aramco, according to Saudi media.

Fahad Al-Sherehy, SABIC’s Vice President of Energy Efficiency and Carbon Management, also said: “At SABIC, we can economically leverage our existing infrastructure for hydrogen and ammonia production with CO2 capture. Our experience in the full supply chain along with integrated petrochemicals facilities will play an important role in providing the world with the blue ammonia.”

Ammonia can help supply the world’s increasing demand for energy through reliable and sustainable methods. 

The Saudi-Japan blue ammonia supply network involved a full value chain; including the conversion of hydrocarbons to hydrogen and then to ammonia, as well as the capture of associated carbon dioxide emissions.