That year, desperate to find a solution, Cape Town announced its intention to purchase its own electricity from independent renewable energy producers. Lower costs and exponential growth in renewable energy technology made this possible. Amazon recently announced it would build your own solar farm to power its data centers in South Africa, thus isolating itself from outages on the national network. If businesses can do it, why can’t cities?
The answer is mired in a complex web of regulations and restrictions. The Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, in consultation with South Africa’s national energy regulator, has the sole power to decide where South African citizens get their energy, how it is sold and what source is used to produce it. In practice, this gives Eskom, the public supplier, a monopoly on the production and supply of energy.
Six years ago, Cape Town asked the ministry to grant it the power to purchase renewable energy from independent power producers. These generators would first supply electricity directly to Cape Town through the grid, and if they produced more electricity than Cape Town needed, any surplus would go to the rest of the country.
The request ended with a legal battle over constitutional issues on who can make such decisions. Given the strength of the South African constitution in support citizens’ rights, the case evolved into a broader struggle for the rights of citizens to have reliable power.
Cape Town did not win this case, but the debate it initiated created political pressure. In October 2020, the government announced a modification of electricity regulations this would allow municipalities to find their own methods of generating electricity or to purchase it from independent generators.
However, the minister still has the final power to sign any new electricity deal involving cities. Additionally, President Cyril Ramaphosa underscored his commitment to a “centralized state enterprise” model in the February State of the Union address, in which he described the different ways his government was going. empower the country. The energy battle between South African cities and the national government is entering a new phase, arguably more aggressive.