Ahead of his keynote address at Africa Tech Week, happening 4-5 March 2019, Fast Company South Africa sat down with Salim Ismail, founding executive director and global ambassador for Singularity University, and asked his opinion on a pressing issue.
South Africa’s energy provider, Eskom, is currently undergoing another load shedding fiasco. What do you think Eskom could have done to prevent this, and what should they do to remedy their mistakes?
To answer this, you first have to consider whether energy is destined to be a ‘scarce’ or ‘abundant’ resource.
If you believe it’ll remain scarce, then the management team can probably transform Eskom’s fortunes by successfully implementing the proposals that have been widely reported.
If, as I do, you think energy is quickly becoming an ‘abundant’ resource, because of the plummeting price of solar, wind and battery technologies, then Eskom will need to redefine its purpose, if it wants to remain relevant.
By this I mean they can’t continue trying to be a monopolistic ‘supplier’ of all energy demand across South Africa. They instead should look at ways to enable South Africans to make the switch from relying on a centralised network, powered predominantly by coal, to distributed networks, powered by the sun and wind.
I don’t envy Eskom’s situation, because as customers switch to photovoltaic and lithium-ion storage solutions, over time they are going to lose a significant percentage of their revenue streams.
The consequences could become dire as they struggle to repair, maintain and invest in an infrastructure where the marginal cost of supply starts to increase substantially.
In a worst case scenario, they’d have to increase prices, which of course will hasten the movement of large numbers of customers to find their own energy solutions, further eroding income streams and so the spiral continues.
If they do decide to repurpose, there are opportunities for Eskom.
They could look at retraining their labour force, leveraging their existing networks and importing intellectual property to become a significant player in the import, manufacture, installation, maintenance and management of any number of new off-grid energy solutions.