South Africa

ROLLING BLACKOUTS

Waking up to Stage 6, now Eskom execs are fighting to fend off Stage 8 power cuts 

Waking up to Stage 6, now Eskom execs are fighting to fend off Stage 8 power cuts 
(Photo: Unsplash / Junior Ferreira)

At dawn on Sunday 18 September, the country was moved into Stage 6 power cuts as diesel reserves ran low. 

Just before 4 am on Sunday, 18 September, Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s phone rang. It was his COO Jan Oberholzer warning that red lights were flashing across the power grid and that diesel reserves that keep emergency power going were running lower at Ankerlig, one of two  gas turbine power plants keeping the lights on as the coal-fired fleet is in its death throes. 

They pressed the button on Stage 6 (switching off or load shedding 6000 MW of electricity). So South Africans woke up to advanced power cuts that can see you lose grid electricity three times a day and more often in parts of Johannesburg where the lights go out for longer blocks of time. (Cape Town has to date generally experienced less severe cuts because of the Steenbras Dam hydro-energy facility but is also now on Stage 6.)

2022 has been the worst year for scheduled power cuts by the monopoly utility Eskom. There have been power cuts on more than 100 days in a year, 259 days old on 18 September, and the prognosis for the rest of the year is not excellent, according to Eskom’s own published schedules.  


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Oberholzer said his teams were all hands on deck and working 24 hours to bring back enough units to go back down to Stage 5 by Sunday evening, 18 September, but De Ruyter warned that the power from these units would not “make its way smoothly onto the grid by Monday”. 

If you are still on the grid, you can plan for another challenging week on the power front. Eskom has already blown R7.7-billion on buying diesel to keep the open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) running – the budget for the entire year. 

Calib Cassim, the CFO, has scraped R500-million more from the budget to buy more, but it is likely to need a fiscal injection from National Treasury. The diesel reserves and the OCGTs are the only things standing between South Africa and Stage 8 power cuts, the last planned for in the outages that keep the grid from collapsing. 

De Ruyter said that ‘geopolitics’ (the war by Russia in Ukraine, which has caused a global energy crisis) has driven up the price of diesel, and buying it on the high seas is getting more and more expensive. “A lot of power stations are at the end of their life. We are doing the best we can with the system we have,” said De Ruyter. About half of Eskom’s installed capacity of 44,000 MW of electricity has been down through the week when power cuts have inched up a stage almost daily after a brief respite in August. The warmer weather and the lower demand at the weekend show how perilous the grid is to demand Stage 6 cuts, adding to a maintenance backlog. Eskom slows down maintenance in high-demand winter months and picks it up as the weather turns.  

City of Joburg’s schedule as of 18 September, 2022

 

The system operator Isabel Fick said a ‘black-start’ test was last done on 23 August. This test checks the entire system and how it would cope with a total collapse and a slow start-up. Fick also said that South Africa only has plans for Stage 8 load shedding. After that, the system operates by taking out megawatts per province (which means you have both national and provincial load shedding to enforce much-reduced demand).


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De Ruyter said South Africa is not close to this scenario. “We are doing our level best to avoid a system breakdown. Load shedding is a tool we use to avoid a system collapse. This is not an imminent risk, but we need the support of South Africa,” he said. He said that similar cuts were being made worldwide and used the examples of the Eiffel Tower, which has cut the lights, and the blackout of electronic billboards across Europe, which is heading into a bleak winter after Russia cut gas exports. De Ruyter ruled out sabotage as a cause of the latest round of cuts.

The DA has said President Cyril Ramaphosa should cut short his trip to the US and Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday to lead South Africa through its umpteenth power crisis. In September 2015, Ramaphosa (then deputy president) said it would take 18 months and two years for the country to deal with its energy crisis. 

How can you help? 

  • Businesses should switch on air-conditioning (heating and cooling) later and turn it off earlier or not use it at all. 
  • Turn off geysers and pool pumps.
  • Keep electricity usage as low as possible at this time.  DM

 

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Stephen T says:

    I don’t care where Ramaphosa is or what he is doing. He is not the leader I look to for solving anything. He is part of the collective that caused all these problems in the first place, and specifically the Mbeki administration. These delinquents would do well to stay quiet, get out of the way, and let the adults of this country fix things as best they can.

  • Eric Pelser says:

    How is it though that diesel supply runs low? No one can read a meter at Eskom?

  • Patrick Devine says:

    Feral, an honest commentator would have reminded SA that the government was publicly warned of the lack of generating capability in 1998 – 24 years ago.

    The cadres fumbled, stole, and failed.
    Many cadres are today wealthy, while 99% of us are in the dark.

  • Dave Reynell says:

    Get your lights, fridges and microwaves (and TV – which I do not have) off the grid as soon as possible. You are looking at R10 to R15k.
    Or els emigrate !

  • Kate Gerber says:

    We are sick and tired of being held to ransom by these crooks. Did you know that Eskom CAN be sued for negligence?! The onus is on the plaintiff to prove it but it shouldn’t be hard. They’re beyond incompetent.

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    Time to convert those gas turbines to ethanol. Win-win with the sugar industry getting a boost.

  • Peter Atkins says:

    I’m glad the DM and most of the press generally are not blaming Mr DE Ruyter for the current mess our electricity system is in. As mentioned on many occasions this mess is due entirely to our governments (ANC and Nationalist) and their propensity to interfere in complex matters without finding appropriate experts, listening to them and acting on their advice.
    The Nationalist government wasted huge amounts of money of building TOO MUCH generation capacity in the sixties, with the result that whole power stations were mothballed and we were stuck with too much old, inefficient technology.
    Then came the ANC and their ill-conceived REDS plan, how they could expect private companies to take on electricity supply supply and distribution when Eskom retained a complete monopoly beggars the mind.
    Then our government government lost another R9 billion and wasted another five years on the the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project (nuclear power stations in a little box was the fantasy).
    Then the ANC effectively took over Eskom and decided to build the biggest coal power stations in the world, Medupi and Kusile. Not content with that, they corrupted the procurement processes which resulted in badly designed, hugely expensive and endlessly delayed white elephants. These two power stations are still under construction and will never deliver the promised output. And yet our dear leader in the DMRE is still delaying and dreaming of nuclear power. Please don’t blame Eskom!

  • Josie Rowe-Setz says:

    I know Eskom is moving forward on BESS but its culture is such thst its far too slow to help in the short term. Its is also hamstrung -even if it were quicker- by some requirements of the pfma which wont allow it to fast track investment partnerships. And the REIPPP investors now find themselves delaying build due to increased input costs. It should never have got here but it has. How to move forward? Fast track BESS programme with DBSA identifiying approrpiate investors and make a seperate unit for BESS which can partner with private sector. Reporting to De Ruyter. Adjust PFMA to remove unecessary barriers to action. Some has happened but its not enough Provide price cap guarantees to IPPs which will allow them to invest and build NOW. Move faster on use of green hydrogen fuel cells to power all government buildings- this will additionally help meet emmissions targets. Bring in differential rates. discount non-peak use for households and 6 Replicate the successful solar panel ptogramme for households implemented in Cape Town some years ago in all larger human settlements. Dont forget to train jobless youth in each province on the installation, maintenance and repair of such panels. Short courses of 1 month per 4 months for a year will see it happen. Then we have a fighting chance for next year. Its a very profitable opportunity. There will be no shortage of investors

  • Deeya Ballim says:

    Imagine if we could set up huge cycling stations, where unemployed people could come and generate electricity by cycling (or walking a treadmill?), and both get paid for their contributions and keep the lights on (even if it’s just for key facilities like hospitals)? After all, we have a dwindling and expensive supply of fossil fuels but an apparently endless supply of humanity. Perhaps we should start considering how to add some sweat equity to our power supply.

    • Matthew Conradie says:

      I think you’re overestimating how much power someone can produce from cycling. You’d end up paying a couple hundred rand per kwh if you want to keep your cyclists alive.

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