Student-led Project

Assessing the resilience of electricity supply in South Africa

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Project Leader(s):

Electricity supply is critical for social and economic functioning of modern society. Electricity is a real-time service and the power system has to be kept in balance 24/7 to avoid cascading failure across interdependent infrastructure. Eskom is the national state-owned electricity provider in South Africa and supplies 95% of electricity consumed in the country. The production capability of the aging fleet of power stations is deteriorating, but Eskom has to balance competing demands to manage the financial constraints, maintain the fleet, keep the lights on and ensure financial sustainability (Eskom 2014). The objective of this study is to establish a depth of understanding of the resilience of electricity supply in South Africa and how to assess it.

A resilient electricity service requires reliable infrastructure as well as the effective functioning of the integrated social web in the organisation providing the essential service. This study draws on emerging concepts and tools at the intersection of resilience thinking and complexity thinking to explore the resilience of electricity supply through four investigations and papers. Paper 1 will lay out a conceptual framework for understanding and assessing resilient electricity supply, building on ongoing work at Eskom. Paper 2 will explicitly extend infrastructure resilience to climate resilience to ensure the essential service is reliable in the face of climate variability. In paper 3, seven generic principles for enhancing resilience proposed by Biggs et. al. (2012; 2015) will be drawn upon to explore ways to assess and strengthen the resilience of electricity supply. Paper 4 will take an unconventional resilience assessment approach using naturalistic sense-making to monitor and assess modulators of resilience within the cognitive complexity of the organisation.

The study will be carried out in collaboration with the Eskom Resilience Department. Ultimately, the study hopes to contribute to the understanding of resilience of keystone sectors.

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