Hit by Rolling Blackouts, Johannesburg Turns to Solar Power to Save the Day

Hit by Rolling Blackouts, Johannesburg Turns to Solar Power to Save the Day

/ Energy & Power / Friday, 25 August 2023 10:29

The fifteenth Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) Summit, which is hailed as the beacon for world economic development,  is officially underway in Johannesburg.  However, the host city that is home to over five million people, is reeling under massive electricity outages.

The state-owned electricity provider Eksom is coping with the crisis with electricity rationing on a regular basis, but the damage caused by prolonged downtimes for businesses is hurting the economy. In 2022, such blackouts cost the economy R300 billion, or about 5% of GDP, according to Eksom.

Blackouts are not new in South Africa. There have been reports of low-level outages dating back well over 15 years. However, the intensity of close to 12 hours of load-shedding only started last year. Although the duration has dropped in recent times, 2 to 4 hours of outages per day have become the norm. Interestingly, speculation is rife that the government is reducing outages to appear efficient ahead of the 2024 general elections.

To deal with the situation, the South African government has deployed over 100 of the best-generation experts from Eskom, the government and the private sector to manage the worst-performing power stations and boost output.

Turning to Solar Power

Frustrated by the rolling power cuts, South Africans are looking for alternative sources of energy, and the best available options have been installing rooftop solar units at the household level.

The city of Johannesburg now plans to install rooftop solar panels at over 700 sites and increase the number of solar water heating systems. Even Cape Town, the second-largest city in the country, sought help from independent producers for energy supply and is developing its first grid-connected solar plant.

In addition, Johannesburg’s electricity utility, City Power, has managed to secure 92 MW of electricity in the short term from companies using waste-to-energy, gas-to-power and solar generation technology to provide cheaper electricity than using Eskom supplies. Johannesburg plans to add 500 MW of capacity by 2030. One megawatt is enough to supply around 650 households, as per Eskom. The coal-rich but energy-starved country generates about 80% of its electricity through coal, relying on 15 aging coal-fired power plants.


Harnessing the sun's power is logical in Africa as a whole, owing to its geography and climate. Africa has an abundance of open land with very little cloud coverage, resulting in long periods of bright sunlight year-round. With almost minimal need for large-scale grid infrastructure, solar power can be utilized and distributed in a manner that is advantageous for citizens.

According to Statista, Africa has the highest long-term solar energy power output in the world, slightly exceeding the threshold of 4.5 kWh/kWp per day, a favorable factor for the country.

Eskom has pushed back initiatives by private companies to source alternative energy sources, citing interference with its statutory duty to manage the grid and the potential consequences of blackouts across the whole country.

By 2024, renewables’ share of global electricity generation will exceed one-third. And depending on weather conditions, 2024 could well become the first year in which more electricity is generated worldwide from renewables than from coal.

Also read: Africa's Solar Potential Shines Over the Horizon

Time for Change

South Africa’s peak winter electricity consumption demand hovers around 34,000 megawatts, but since the citizens have been conscious of reducing waste, that number has come down to 30,000 megawatts, as per official government reports. However, assuming an improving world economic outlook, electricity demand growth is expected to pick up again in 2024, rebounding to 3.3% compared to 2% in 2023, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest projections.

South Africa’s efforts in the green transition have been stalled by controversy. In June, the country’s energy minister was accused of stifling the country's energy transition after he failed to sign a billion-dollar green hydrogen deal launched in partnership with the Netherlands and Denmark. The transition has been caught up with infighting among the government, which has a long history of support from labor unions representing mine workers. Since 2021, South Africa, which is one of the world's top 12 carbon emitters, has secured billions of dollars in international loans and grants to support a green transition.

Experts are of the opinion that South Africa may face the equivalent of stage 10 load shedding if they fail to increase electricity supply and reduce demand at the earliest.

Also read: Resistance to Change Can Slow Energy Transition and Economic Recovery, Says Lebanon’s Ex-Industry Minister

Also read: UAE Launched Green Energy Projects Worth AED 159 Billion in 2022

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