Business Maverick

STATE OF THE GRID

Candle in the wind: Eskom warns of another year of load shedding

Eskom Group Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
By Ed Stoddard
25 Oct 2021 11

The candle in the wind that is state-run power utility Eskom has warned that the power system will be constrained until at least the end of August next year. That means investment and economic growth will remain stunted for the foreseeable future.

Eskom gave an update on the “state of the system” on Monday. It’s not very good. 

“The capacity outlook for the period ending August 2022 shows that the power system remains constrained. Eskom will be required to extensively use the Open Cycle Gas Turbines to either avert load shedding or to reduce the magnitude thereof,” the utility said in a statement. 

So load shedding will be a regular feature of South African life until the end of August next year, and only the heavy use of diesel and gas will mitigate it. That means power shortages will continue to deter investment and hobble the economy’s ability to fire on all cylinders, hobbling growth. 

This in turn means that no meaningful dent can be made into a world-beating unemployment rate of 34.4%. No big plans for new mines or factories will be in the pipeline, so de-industrialisation will continue apace. An economy cannot at this stage of the 21st century industrialise to re-industrialise without a reliable power supply — unless you are looking at some late 18th or early 19th century modes of industrialisation. But South Africa is not about to send out a fleet to start harpooning whales again. 

Eskom and the wider economy remain caught in a vicious cycle. The utility needs to accelerate its maintenance programme on its ageing fleet of coal-powered plants, but that — along with frequent failures — means it often does not have enough capacity to meet demand. 

“Our objective is to achieve a reliable and sustainable generation plant, thereby reducing the risk and frequency of the occurrence of load shedding. As such, Eskom will not compromise on reliability maintenance and mid-life refurbishment,” Eskom Group Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer said in a statement. 

“However painful in the short term, this maintenance we have to do in order to ensure future reliability.

“We are aware that the increased maintenance does elevate the probability of load shedding in the short term, but this is necessary to improve the future performance of the generation fleet,” Oberholzer said.

He also said there was an “urgent need” for another 4,000MW to 6,000MW of generation capacity.

Eskom’s planned maintenance programme means an average of 5,500MW is offline at any one time, hence the urgent need for 4,000MW to 6,000MW. 

Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has been flagging nuclear power and additional coal to fill this void, but neither is really affordable and cannot be built as a matter of urgency — just look at the debacle of the Medupi and Kusile power plants. Then there are the controversial power ships, a plan that may still get sunk. 

Solar plants, for one, can be built much faster and more cheaply than coal.

In the meantime, ANC mandarins can talk all they like about economic growth, job creation and industrialisation. Without a steady and affordable supply of power — not to mention the cleaner sources needed to make South African products competitive in a global economy that will start penalising heavy carbon usage — it will remain talk. And hot air is not going to keep the lights on. DM/BM

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All Comments 11

  • Blah blah blah. How about an honest apology from Eskom for their huge b*****-up over too many years for us to believe we need just byt vas to September next year? The magnitude of the incompetence is astounding and all the money (our taxes) thrown at it has changed nothing. ‘Fellow South Africans’ are held hostage to this giant pit that swallows our money, livelihoods and much of our happiness.

  • My view is that Andre de Ruyter and Jan Oberholzer are making a genuine attempt to correct things but that the damage to Eskom is far too deep for first aid treatment now. I apportion the blame more to Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa as they were both in a position to change things many years ago. Thabo wouldn’t act as he was too involved in the ANC enrichment scheme known as the Arms Deal and Cyril, well he’s just too useless to do anything. Mantashe is a newcomer in the scheme of things and has been instructed to keep the money machine turning over for as long as possible while nest eggs and prepared elsewhere.

  • Other reports say Treasury is not releasing money for planned maintenance fast enough. Long lead items can’t be bought so maintenance gets deferred. Hope this is not a strategy so Gwede can sail his power ships into harbour.

  • Surely no one is surprised? Hats off to Oberholzer and de Ruyter for battling political, financial, logistical, unions, courts and other headwinds. The reality remains, while Eskom is too big to fail, it’s also too big to fix.

  • You can’t build a house on sand.

    And the South African government is an intellectual desert, full of nasty crawly creatures that spit, bite, steal, lie, cheat, and in all likelihood kill.

    Vote DA.

  • It seems to me that one of the problems is that governments want to maintain control of supply. If they subsidised solar panels most people would love to have them and this could ease peak demand quite quickly…..