Justice implications of household access to alternative water and electricity
Date of publication: 1 February 2023
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The current electricity crisis has been described as “a perfect storm”, where an ageing and inadequately maintained fleet of coal power stations has compounded with necessary upgrades of the Koeberg Nuclear power station and significant failures at the new Medupi and Kusile coal power stations. Over the past year, Eskom’s inability to meet the country’s electricity demand has resulted in unprecedented loadshedding, which is unlikely to ease in the short term.
At the same time, the Gauteng City-Region has experienced critical water supply issues. The combined impact of heat waves, intermittent pumping due to electricity interruptions and population growth, has resulted in demand outstripping supply, with some areas experiencing low pressure, while others lose access to water on a near-daily basis.
In this context, many residents in the city-region have invested in alternative electricity and water sources to protect themselves from supply interruptions and increasing tariffs, and to reduce their carbon footprint. Although these decisions help maintain service access for those who can afford these alternatives, a range of consequences need to be considered for municipalities and society as a whole. Importantly, the lost revenue from residents relying on off-grid technologies impacts municipalities’ ability to cross-subsidise service provision to poor households. Furthermore, the change in consumption patterns as a result of these alternative and hybrid electricity and water sources has the potential to create additional pressure on the grid.
This Vignette uses GCRO’s Quality of Life survey to explore the extent to which residents are turning to alternative electricity and water sources. The data reveal that, although increasing over time, only a small minority of Gauteng residents (±1 in 20) have access to alternative water and electricity.
In 2022, GCRO Maps of the Month showed how affluent households in Gauteng are less affected by electricity and water interruptions than poor households. Furthermore, affluent households are proportionately more likely to invest in alternative electricity and water sources than poorer households. Access to solar power grew from 0.3% in 2015/16 to 3% in 2020/21 for the lowest income group, but for the highest income group access to solar increased from 4% to 12% in the same period. As a result, the gap is widening between wealthier households who can shield themselves from electricity and water interruptions and poorer households who cannot afford to do so.
This Vignette is an output of the Off-Grid Cities: Elite infrastructure secession and social justice project, which is funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant Number 129484). The project is a partnership between the GCRO, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University and the University of Sheffield, which explores the dynamics and implications of households and businesses investing in alternative water and electricity.
Edits and input: Graeme Götz and Richard Ballard.
Vignette design: Jennifer Murray