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South African cities scramble to keep the lights on

A woman tests LED lights on a solar panel at their factory called Ener-G-Africa, where they produce high-quality solar panels made by an all-women team, in Cape Town, South Africa, February 9, 2023. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

Reeling from South Africa’s worst-ever electricity crisis, local authorities across the country are turning to private suppliers to help businesses and households keep the lights on.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of disaster over the energy crunch, which is seen wiping as much as 2 percentage points off economic growth this year.

With South Africans spending up to 10 hours a day without electricity due to rolling blackouts by struggling state utility Eskom, the tourist city of Cape Town aims to halve power cuts for its residents by 2026, its executive director for energy Kadri Nassiep said.

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Officials plan to procure up to 500 megawatts (MW) from private power companies by 2026 to provide roughly a third of the city’s annual 1,500-1,800 megawatts (MW) electricity needs.

They are also looking at offering households monetary incentives to save power during peak demand.

“Our idea is to make up the shortfall that Eskom is not able to provide, so that we can get the economy growing here again, investors interested again, get jobs back,” Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis told Reuters.

Debt-laden Eskom said earlier this month that it was only able to supply 56.6% of the power needed nationally in the 2022/23 financial year.

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The electricity crunch has been years in the making, a product of factors including delays in building new coal-fired power stations and easing regulation to enable renewable energy producers to swiftly bring projects onstream.

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