Swaziland
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ECONOMIST’S LOAD-SHEDDING FEARS ON EDUCATION, HEALTH

Load-shedding arises when the demand for electrical power exceeds the supply and to maintain continuous production and voltage, service providers in the sector deliberately switch off certain parts of the grid on a rolling and scheduled basis. This is done in order to distribute electrical power equally. As this happens, even for a short period of time, it culminates in an increased likelihood of disruptions, which require consumers to seek alternative means. According to a report by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on energy, Eswatini has implemented sporadic bouts of load-shedding since 2015.

This publication engaged an economist to establish the impact of the implementation of load-shedding given the strain on the power grid as the winter season is at its peak. On Friday, this publication reported that during the Energy Indaba held last Wednesday, Eswatini Electricity Company (EEC) cautioned that it anticipated that the local power system would be severely strained and there would be a high likelihood of load-shedding next month. The company said the threat of load shedding had been there over the past couple of years, as the region experienced shortages in power supply, coupled with the generation challenges faced by some of its power suppliers. Khaya Mavuso, EEC Marketing and Corporate Communications Manager, said during the period of June, July and August, EEC normally experienced an increase in customer electricity consumption, which in turn increased the demand for electricity.

He said during the winter season, heaters were running, customers were indoors more, electricity gadgets were on, lights were on, refrigerators were open for snacks and so on. Eswatini falls short in producing sustainable energy to service the population and relies mostly on importing power from South Africa and occasionally Mozambique (EDM). EEC owns and operates four hydro-power plants that provide 60.4MW of power and contribute 15 to 17 per cent of the total energy consumed in Eswatini.

Supplied

These are Maguga (19.8MW), Ezulwini (20MW), Edwaleni (15MW) and Maguduza (5.6MW).  EEC is also supplied by five IPPs operating power plants in Eswatini with a total installed capacity of close to 110MW made up of hydro, biomass and solar PV plant technologies. In addition to the hydro plants, EEC owns a 9MW diesel generator but due to high operating cost, the generator is mothballed and only used during emergency situations. These plants, as per the importation of power from Eskom are not enough for the country to be self-sufficient. An economist said with the high possibility of load-shedding being inevitable in the upcoming month, the health sector needed to ensure that it serviced its back-up generators. He said health facilities were immune to load-shedding in South Africa; however, there was a need for backup generators for emergencies as the grid could collapse.

The Spotlight, which is a South African health sector publication, reported that load-shedding had also made the existing backlogs in surgeries more pronounced. It was said this also caused a huge strain on budgets in both the private and public sectors, because hospitals and private clinics were forced to invest in alternative sources of energy when the power went out.
Many of these health facilities, it was said, depended on backup diesel generators when load-shedding kicked in, but with longer periods of the power outages, the increased use of generators came with a hefty price tag.

In Gauteng, for example, health facilities by August last year had spent R42.5 million on diesel for generators – almost double the amount spent in the same period in 2021. In light of this, the economist said it was essential that in the long term, government looks into providing power through solar systems in critical sectors of society. He said the country barely afforded to have sufficient fuel for its fleet and in previous instances it was reported that there was no fuel for generators in some hospitals. Worth noting is that this publication reported in 2019 that the Mbabane Government Hospital did not have back-up equipment in the event there was an electricity outage. Following a storm in the aforesaid year, nurses and doctors had to use cellphone torches while assisting patients.

Means

Meanwhile, on education, the economist said those who were under threat the most were students in tertiary institutions and also pupils engaging in practical subjects, such as food science. He said power outages meant that students who did not reside on campus had to abandon studying and or seek alternative means. Furthermore, he said the impact of load shedding to businesses was serious, as they at instances have to halt operations or operate at reduced capacity, which could lead to reduced productivity. This, he said, had a negative result on the overall economic growth as employees may not work efficiently or complete tasks on time. This publication recently reported that the impact of load-shedding in South Africa was already having negative effects on the local economy; mostly the textile and apparel sector. The local textile industry was said to be under strain as sales plummeted given that their clients, who they produce goods for, based on their orders, were reporting minimal profits as a majority of the items ended up being sold at lower prices.

He said the power challenges were also a threat to the foreign direct investment (FDI) which the country needed towards the creation of employment. The economist opined that reliable infrastructure was essential and failure to have stable power could hinder economic growth. This, he said was also a threat to the tourism industry,as there were no people who would want to struggle with the basics while on holiday.  It is worth noting that to enhance energy security and self-sufficiency, the government has embarked on the development of additional generation capacity to meet the country’s energy demand. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy established an Independent Power Producers (IPP) policy, that targets to increase the use of local renewable energy resources including biomass and solar.

The country has also developed an energy master plan that presents further possible scenarios for new power generation capacity up to 2034. The energy master plan was supplemented with a five-year short-term generation expansion plan (SGEP) prioritising 40 MW solar and 40 MW biomass power generation plants. On the other hand, His Majesty King Mswati III when opening Parliament in 2022, said it was the country’s ambition to attract businesses that generate billions in revenue, which relied on a solid power grid.  He highlighted that the contract between the country and South Africa was coming to an end in 2025 and needed the kingdom to produce its own energy. His speech emphasised on the production of energy eight times.

The monarch noted that the country was looking into thermal power station, while also acknowledging that the global community was at the stage of considering phasing out such energy production. He called upon the country to consider exploiting natural gas, solar energy and wind turbines. It is worth noting that the compass for the country’s economic recovery is the Eswatini Strategic Road Map, which seeks to exploit five major sectors, namely: Manufacturing, natural resources, information, communication and technology (ICT) and tourism.