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Anton Hanekom - Detrimental effects of rolling blackouts

With the seemingly endless challenges that South Africa and its people face, the driving force behind these challenges seems to be the notorious rolling blackouts that have plagued our country for more than a decade. From manufacturing and production, to retail and education, not a single industry is being left unscathed and unaffected. Plastics SA Executive Director Anton Hanekom says, the local plastics industry is no exception when it comes to experiencing the negative impact of relentless interruptions in power supply.

“Our industry is especially exposed when it comes to loadshedding due to the fact that the processing and production of plastics and plastic products are done primarily through thermal processing. This means that high temperatures must be maintained throughout the manufacturing process.

However, without power, these high temperatures cannot be effectively reached and maintained, nor is there enough time between scheduled power outages for the machines used to reach the required temperature for the processes to be restarted,” Hanekom explains.

Ripple effects felt by other industries

Plastics are ubiquitous in our lives and can be found in almost every aspect. As a result, plastic manufacturing and use serve as the foundation for other products. When the plastics industry faces such severe challenges, it quickly snowballs and affects other closely related and critical industries, such as the packaging sector, which accounts for half of total plastic polymer consumption in South Africa, followed by the building and construction sector.

Whilst relying on generators for private use can be effective to keep homes operational and the lights on until loadshedding ends, it does not pose an effective long-term solution for large companies that mass produce plastic products. Owing to the high cost of diesel, manufacturers find themselves paying double the tax when they use generators.

In 2000 Government started implementing a diesel refund system to provide full or partial relief from the general fuel levy and the Road Accident Fund (RAF) levy to primary sectors such as agriculture. The refund system is in place for the farming, forestry, fishing and mining sectors. However, during the last budget speech, in light of the electricity crisis, a similar refund on the RAF levy for diesel used in the manufacturing process, such as for generators, has been extended to the manufacturers of foodstuffs. We believe this refund must be extended, to all manufacturing sectors using generators, to bring much needed relief from the general fuel levy and RAF levy.

The importance of becoming self-reliant

With the country’s power utility predicting at least two more years of loadshedding on the horizon, the plastics industry cannot afford to wait on the government to solve its problems. Hanekom says that, as the representative body of the plastics industry, Plastics SA strongly advises plastic roducers to find practical and innovative ways of getting around the power supply issues they face.

If no other economically viable solutions can be found, at least bargain for longer periods. The industry would welcome loadshedding cycles of 12 hours or more. In other words, switch the supply off for 12 hours but then allow the manufacturers and recyclers to run continuously for seven days. The stop-start cycles are not the solution for thermos-processing technologies.

“As part of government’s Industrial Policy Re-imagined, a Plastics Industry Master Plan is being developed to put the industry on a growth trajectory. This plan is already three years in the making and sees an active collaboration between industry, labour and government to develop a vision for the industry, identify blockages and constraints, and develop a set of key actions that need to be taken forward over the short and medium term. We are tapping into these resources and partnerships to try and find affordable and workable energy solutions to ensure our industry remains competitive. Whether these solutions involve going off the grid, feeding power back into the grid, or using renewable energy, a viable solution needs to be found and implemented as a matter of urgency if we hope to see any form of success in the future,” Hanekom concludes.

Detrimental effects of rolling blackouts
Detrimental effects of rolling blackouts

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