July 16th, 2010
03:38 PM GMT
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I am tapping this out on my blackberry, in the shadow of candlelight.

The lights have gone out in my neighborhood.

Rolling power cuts were all too common in 2008. So much so, we installed a generator in our back garden. We have hardly used it – it is an obnoxious piece of machinery that belches noise and pollution.

I prefer to stick out the three hours (that is the average, almost always starting early evening just as you start feeding and bathing the children) with candles, head-torches and our gas stove.

In fact, the quietness, the gentle candlelight flickering and the forced relaxation is actually quite enjoyable.

However, these power cuts are symptomatic of a very real threat to South Africa's economic growth. The power infrastructure is woeful, so much so that the World Bank recently agreed to loan South Africa $3.75 billion to build a new coal power station.  Much to the horror of many people who believe South Africa should be working towards more a greener energy supply.

Currently 95 percent of South Africa's electricity comes from coal, according to the government.

The truth is that the blackouts my neighborhood is currently experiencing are just a minor inconvenience for domestic homes. The real damage is to heavy industry – particularly mining – that relies on a regular uninterrupted supply of power.

Beyond heavy industry, nearly all businesses have been hurt by South Africa’s haphazard electricity supply, from the road-side hairdresser who cannot switch on his electric razor to the restaurant who cannot serve hot meals.

From the smallest entrepreneur to the largest multinational company,  investment opportunities are curtailed and growth is threatened by the lack of constant energy for sub-Saharan Africa's largest economy.

Change may be coming in the next few years when the new coal power station kicks into action but that doesn't quieten the debate about how South Africa needs to address its electricity sourcing in the long term.

Less dependency on coal and better planning, say the experts.



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