Eskom has forecasted more load-shedding in the winter season, with the power utility saying there could be as many as 101 days of power outages — something that it calls an “extreme case” scenario.
The “best case” scenario (if there is such a thing regarding the major inconvenience of load-shedding) is that Eskom might throw South Africa into darkness for 32 days during winter.
Eskom proffered this forecast on Tuesday 19 April after it intensified load-shedding from stage two to four, citing further breakdowns and lost generation capacity at its old and creaking power stations.
In a briefing with journalists, Eskom’s head of transmission, Segomoco Scheppers, said the power utility expects between 37 and 101 days of load-shedding during the winter season. But this depends on how much generation capacity Eskom will lose during winter, which is a volatile period for the national grid because the power utility cannot keep up with the electricity demand from households and businesses.
Eskom has to contain unplanned breakdowns below 12,500MW to completely avoid load-shedding. If unplanned breakdowns surpass the 12,500MW mark during winter, then Eskom’s “extreme case” scenario of load-shedding will probably become a reality.
For the latest round of load-shedding, Eskom has blamed heavy rains across the country over the Easter long weekend and offered an excuse that has been heard before.
The persistent rain, Eskom said, has made its coal stockpile wet, rendering it unusable for feeding units at its power stations. Wet coal tends to be slimy and sticky, causing blockages at units, which leads to breakdowns and lost generation capacity.
It became apparent on Saturday 16 April that Eskom would need to launch another bout of load-shedding. The generation breakdowns have hit a critical level in recent days, with unplanned losses reaching more than 15,600 MW. Meanwhile, planned maintenance has taken out over 5,000MW of capacity.
And because of this lost generation, Eskom will consider ending rolling blackouts on Friday 22 April. Eskom does not foresee load-shedding escalating to Stage 6 this week because it “expects some units to come back tomorrow and some big units coming online on Thursday”.
The latest bout of load-shedding is a blow to South Africa’s broken economy, which should be recovering from the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are virtually no lockdown restrictions anymore, which should, in theory, pave the way for the economy to recover.
The De Ruyter focus
Since he was appointed Eskom group CEO two years ago, André de Ruyter’s focus has been on the maintenance of units at power stations — even if it means temporarily putting them out of commission and losing generation capacity.
De Ruyter has also embraced independent power producers (IPPs) that can supply electricity to Eskom, plugging gaps in its generation capacity. Electricity from renewable energy players contributes just less than 1,500MW — not huge in Eskom’s universe of generation needs.
“Over the past eight years [since 2014], there hasn’t been new generation capacity. That eight-year delay has caused a significant shortfall in new capacity being added to the grid. Eskom, under previous management, played a role in this by refusing to sign IPPs on the grid. And that decision has come to haunt us,” said De Ruyter.
To alleviate the load shedding pressure, Eskom wants to seek bids from small/independent power generators to sell their surplus electricity into the national grid under contracts of at least three years. But legislative changes are needed before this can be a reality. Eskom requires, among other things, permission from the government to relax procurement rules under the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act.
De Ruyter also wants to expedite Eskom’s process of procuring goods (spare parts) from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to continuously maintain the utility’s power stations. For example, the government is in the process of relaxing Transnet’s procurement rules to expedite its process of procuring goods for the maintenance of its assets, including locomotives. De Ruyter wants the government to throw the same procurement lifeline to Eskom.
“We are asking for an exemption to procure equipment and spare parts from OEMs instead of having to go through non-value intermediaries. We believe that this will offer us cost savings and efficiency gains. It would also give us greater latitude to expand certain contracts we have instead of going through long procurement processes,” he said. DM/BM