The United States government has advised its stakeholders in South Africa to be ready to engage their disaster management gear in view of possible total collapse of Eskom’s power grid

Eskom is South Africa’s state-owned power company. It operates 15 coal-fired power stations that generate more than 80% of the country’s electricity, but recorded with regularly break down.

A South Africa based news agency, MyBroadband, reported yesterday that the US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) had convened a meeting with stakeholders in the region a week ago to discuss business security concerns surrounding Eskom and load-shedding.

Representatives from several large US-based corporations with operations in South Africa and large local companies attended the meeting. All the participants reportedly agreed to abide by the Chatham House Rule.

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Under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker (s), nor that of any other participant, is permitted to be revealed.
Discussions in the meeting reportedly centered on the dangers that could befall big-time energy consumers in the event of total blackout, that may last a while more than necessary.

MyBroadband, which reviewed a recording of the meeting, said the US officials are however not yet convinced about a total collapse of the grid, and had expressed faith in Eskom’s system operator to mitigate such an eventuality.

 “Eskom estimates, in the best case scenario, it would take six to 14 days to restart the power grid,” the report quoted a US government minerals and energy expert, as saying.

“There are a few feeder lines from other countries, but not enough to help with a black start situation.
“To start one unit at Medupi would require a 60-megawatt generator. It’s a massive amount of power just to get a Medupi unit started.”

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Part of the report however contained fear expressed by some participants that there would be anarchy, looting and civil unrest if the grid collapses. They also reasoned that, given its spread, Eskom may face difficulties getting the grid up and running again.

It added that the US government warned attendees that they would be unable to rely on South Africa’s national security structures as they would be stretched too thin. According to MyBroadband, one attendee from a major South African financial institution corroborated the above claim, saying any disaster management plan could not rely on the government at all.

“If any mitigation plan has any reliance on the state, you’ve got a very poor mitigation strategy in place,” they said.

By Ken Okoye

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