Chairman Oberholzer on the future of power supply in SA: Mulilo Energy, Eskom, and his life’s purpose to be part of the solution

Jan Oberholzer has left the dark days of ESKOM behind him and joined the race for renewable energy. In this interview, he maps out the future of power supply in South Africa. He speaks to BizNews following his appointment as the non-executive chairperson of Mulilo Energy. Oberholzer – who was not short of job offers from across the world – reveals why he chose to stay in South Africa and join Mulilo. He gives details of the many projects in the pipeline at the independent renewable energy developer. He says Mulilo has “quite an aggressive goal”  to add five to six gigawatts of electricity to South Africa in the public as well as private sector. “So it is then for me to provide the necessary leadership to guide, to support, to give whatever direction that is required to assist them.” Oberholzer also looks into the future at how the role of ESKOM in the power supply industry is likely to change over the years.Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:41 – Jan Oberholzer on his storied history with Eskom
  • 02:11 – On why he chose Mulilo energy as his next venture
  • 05:13 – His position there
  • 06:18 – Projects on the pipeline that could benefit SA
  • 07:51 – How he sees the future of power supply in SA
  • 10:16 – If he thinks Eskom will eventually have to semi privatise
  • 11:49 – Why he decided to stick it out in SA when he had opportunities abroad
  • 14:09 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

Jan Oberholzer has left the dark days of ESKOM behind him and joined the race for renewable energy. 

In this interview, he maps out the future of power supply in South Africa.

He speaks to BizNews following his appointment as the non-executive chairperson of Mulilo Energy. 

Oberholzer – who was not short of job offers from across the world – reveals why he chose Mulilo. 

Read more: Former Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer appointed chairman at Mulilo Energy

“…when I formally then left ESKOM…I had, as I said, some offers and then I engaged quite extensively with Mulilo, but more specifically with the majority shareholder they have, CIP, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners; they have an excess of 85% shareholding in Mulilo. 

“And based on various issues and aspects that I engaged and read, I decided to take up this offer; very grateful obviously. If you just take CIP, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, they are the largest investor globally, focused on renewable energy. They have about 25 billion Euros of assets under management. 

“What also impressed me about CIP, are the people. They are professionals, not only with financial backgrounds. The majority of them have been involved in the electricity and energy industry. So, you know, it was quite easy to discuss and understand and be on the same level. 

“But then more specifically…Mulilo is the only South African independent power producer before this shelving from CIP.  So, here around about 2007/8…they got together, South Africans, and they created this vehicle. 

“Now, this vehicle has been extremely successful. Again, my engagement with the people has been extremely positive. I believe they have a very clear vision where they want to go. And… taking all of this into consideration and obviously…what also impressed me of Mulilo is their commitment and investment that they’re making in the communities where they are working. So the track record speaks for itself. 

“So all in all, I believe then looking at all of this and bringing my experience and my expertise and competence to the table, that it’s good. I believe it’s a good match. And I’m really looking forward…to adding value to the energy and electricity situation and challenges we have in the country, but outside ESKOM.”

Read more: BN@10: Jan Oberholzer delivers a masterclass on how to get Eskom – and the SA economy – back on track

Asked about the role he will play at Mulilo, Oberholzer says: “…we have quite an aggressive goal in the coming years to add five to six gigawatts of electricity to South Africa in the public as well as private sector. So, it is then for me to provide the necessary leadership to guide, to support, to give…whatever direction that is required to assist them.”

As for ESKOM’s future, Oberholzer says: “…it’s very clear that in time to come…Eskom will have less generation capacity than they have currently. Now, if you look at the reality in the country, and as we speak, we have Stage Six load shedding, that the demand is way above what is available in terms of generation capacity. And then also there’s a challenge that some of the capacity that is available needs urgent attention in terms of maintenance. And it’s running with a very high utilisation factor because of the demand.

‘So…my view is that they do not have the luxury of… taking units off the number that they need to and really care for them and maintain them the way they’re supposed to for whatever period is required because of the demand in the country. And because you have this big delta, additional capacity in the country is urgently required. We’ve been asking for this for nearly four years. And this is why I believe that it is critical that we have other players that need to enter the market and to ensure that the necessary generation capacity is available to deal with this unsustainable situation that we currently have.

“…what I do see, and this is Jan’s view … my own view, that the ESKOM generation in time to come, you know, it might be five, ten years, whatever the time frame may be, will be but one of the generation companies supplying electrons in this country. I believe that they will still for a very long time remain a dominant player in the market, but they will not be the only player in the market. And this is why it’s critical that companies like Mulilo, obtain the necessary opportunity, provided they are cost-effective, that they have the opportunity to participate in this market and to assist the country to get rid of this load-shedding, which is costing the country dearly – and is having a very negative impact on the lives of all of us living here.”

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