It’s time for SA to lower its expectations (again)
It is one of those hard truths that you learn as you grow up — understanding when the real benefits gained from lowering your expectations will outweigh the desired benefits lost to your future self.
To simplify, let’s just call it a reality check.
The mechanics of this implies that when what you want from life, or any given situation, no longer realistically matches what you can expect to gain from that situation, you have two choices: either you compromise by lowering your expectations, or you call it quits and get out.
This is a choice that many South Africans have been forced to make too often over the past two decades, and one that we must now make again about Eskom.
For our own mental health and, it seems, the mental health of Eskom employees, SA must lower its expectations.
Eskom has made it clear in its communication to the public in the past couple of weeks: expect more load-shedding, expect more erratic changes to the stages of load-shedding to be implemented, and don’t expect things to get better soon.
By clinging to unrealistic expectations, such as hoping for several consecutive days without load-shedding, or an imminent return by Eskom to an energy availability factor (EAF) of 75% (a measure of electricity output as a share of total installed generation capacity), we are only setting Eskom employees up for failure and ourselves for disappointment.
The utility made it clear in its most recent system outlook that we need to prepare to experience power cuts on most days as it ramps up its maintenance programme during the summer months. Long-term outages at Koeberg, Kusile and Medupi mean that about 4,000MW (equivalent to four stages of load-shedding) will be offline for at least the next six months.
Furthermore, having depleted its R11bn diesel budget for the year, Eskom will not be able to make as much use of its emergency reserves as it would like to, which places further strain on the system and can result in short-notice jumps between load-shedding stages.
Over the next six months, given the current constraints, Eskom will have to implement load-shedding up to 85% of the time — that is, on six days out of seven.
The new chair of the Eskom board, Mpho Makwana, who wants to see a return to an EAF of 75% (compared with the current EAF of 58%), will also have to lower his expectations to match the real state of the generation fleet.
Eskom’s target EAF for the 2022/2023 financial year is 60% and executives hope this will rise to 65% towards the end of next year. To expect anything more is to add to the “unbearable pressure” experienced by those at the top, which has seen Eskom lose two heads of generation in six months.
The other option, as mentioned above, is to choose to “get out”. In the extreme, and for those who can afford it, this might mean emigrating to a country with secure and affordable power supply. Unfortunately, given the global energy crisis and the push towards lowering fossil fuel emissions from the energy sector, finding such a country is becoming harder.
But “get out” can also mean going off grid, perhaps the more realistic and practical option for most of us. The extent to which you can make yourself less reliant on Eskom depends on how deep your pockets are — from going fully off-grid to investing in rechargeable battery-powered lights, gas stoves and simple inverters that can keep a computer running for a couple of hours.
However, it becomes far more challenging and expensive if you need to “semigrate” your small to medium business off the grid.
Sadly, it is in this sector, where SA can least afford it, that business owners might be left with only one alternative: to get out and shut their doors, leaving the newly jobless to again lower their expectations — which is fine, until we hit the bottom.
THE EXTENT TO WHICH YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF LESS RELIANT ON ESKOM DEPENDS ON HOW DEEP YOUR POCKETS ARE