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POWER CRISIS

New electricity minister Ramokgopa ‘hits the ground sprinting,’ as he visits all Eskom power stations

New electricity minister Ramokgopa ‘hits the ground sprinting,’ as he visits all Eskom power stations
Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, (right) visits Eskom power stations accompanied by his adviser Mr Silas Zimu and other senior officials in his department. The visit was to Kriel Power Station and Duvha Power Station in Mpumalanga. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane / GCIS)

On the day Eskom announced that load shedding would be suspended, new Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa began his tour of all Eskom’s power stations, finding that the problem lies in technical issues and the solution will be found in the workers.

‘The minister [of electricity] has hit the ground, not running, but sprinting,” former Eskom executive manager and former City Power Joburg senior executive Vally Padayachee told Daily Maverick

Padayachee was referring to the Minister in the Presidency responsible for electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who has completed his second day of visits to Eskom’s 14 power stations where he engaged with the plant management, workers at the plant level and organised labour in an effort to understand the core issues, resolve the load shedding crisis and implement the President’s Energy Action Plan.

Padayachee said Ramokgopa had made it clear he was not coming up with a new plan to stop rolling blackouts, but was executing the Energy Action Plan put forward by President Cyril Ramaphosa last July, which aims to stop load shedding as quickly as possible. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Ramaphosa’s ‘Energy Action Plan’ — how is it faring half a year later?” 

ramokgopa

On Tuesday, Ramokgopa (centre) told the media during his visit to Kusile Power Station: ‘The challenges that we’ve had here, these are technical problems, they have nothing to do with so-called corruption.’ (Photo: Elmond Jiyane / GCIS)

The plan is to secure up to 8,822 megawatts (MW) of capacity this year through a mixture of importing power from other countries and private-sector embedded generation, bringing most of Kusile’s units online and securing up to 1,350MW through emergency generation. Next year the National Energy Crisis Committee hopes to secure up to 8,665MW of capacity.

For the plan, “The two main contributors are to fix Eskom Generation by raising its energy availability factor (EAF) to approximately 70% and bring new electrons on to the grid as quickly as possible,” said Padayachee. 

While the President wants the plan executed in two years, Padayachee says it may take longer, “because of the impact of the current global macroeconomic situation, the Russian-Ukraine, European Union energy crisis situation, which may have a negative impact on the supply and/or delivery of critical equipment in time, which includes transformers, switchgear, battery storage, etc.

“This equipment is essential for many IPP-related projects that will be rolled out in SA to address the electricity crisis.”

Rolling blackouts suspended 

On Monday morning, when the minister began his tour at Duvha and Kriel power stations, Eskom announced that load shedding would be suspended until Tuesday at 4pm.

But on Tuesday, Eskom announced rolling blackouts would remain suspended until 5am on Wednesday, when Stage 2 will be implemented. 

The power utility said that Stage 3 load shedding would be implemented from 4pm on Wednesday until 5am on Thursday, and that “this pattern will be repeated until further notice”. This was because of “the slight improvement in available generation capacity and the lower-than-anticipated demand”.

Payadachee said the lowered demand was probably due to the long weekend when many commercial and industrial entities shut down. “But also the strikes yesterday — so even if people wanted to work, things were shut down.”

Problems down to technical problems, not corruption, claims Ramokgopa

On Tuesday, Ramokgopa told the media during his visit to Kusile Power Station: “The challenges that we’ve had here, these are technical problems, they have nothing to do with so-called corruption.”*

Construction on Kusile Power Station, one of South Africa’s “newer” coal-fired power stations, began in 2008 alongside Medupi Power Station. It contributes 2,880MW to the grid when everything runs smoothly.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Eskom greenwash on coal-fired Kusile a smokescreen for terrifying overall emissions 

Ramokgopa said the issues at Kusile were down to the structural integrity of the chimney and the design components of the flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD), which “have nothing to do with corruption and everything to do with technical designs”. 

Eskom has admitted that its FGD, installed to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions, has many issues which contribute to load shedding — citing design, operation and maintenance challenges.

Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has explained that the FGD has a “single point of failure on a unit, so if the unit doesn’t work, there is no way of bypassing it, causing us to have to shut down the entire unit”.

On Tuesday, Ramokgopa said, “There are significant modifications that they are making, and I’m very happy with the modifications they are proposing.”

Padayachee agreed that the problems related to load shedding, the grid and potential blackouts were technical. 

“My take is that the role of the minister is equivalent to that of a super project manager,” because the Energy Action Plan that the minister is executing is a project plan with a definite start date and a desired or aspirational end date to end load shedding.

“The minister has hit the ground, not running, but sprinting. So as the super project manager… you want to see a lot of energy. And you have got to make a statement to your team.”

Padayachee said that in addition to Ramokgopa executing his role as a super project manager of the Energy Action Plan, as a Cabinet minister he would also have certain political powers.

Padayachee said that even though Ramogkopa operated in a political arena he also worked from the perspective of an engineer — assessing the situation for himself and collecting all the data and information related to the problem.

“Good engineers will put their overalls on, put the boots on and get to what is at the bottom [of the problem] – which is what he’s probably doing now, visiting all the power stations these past few days, and even going forward.”

Building morale at Eskom

On Monday, when he visited the Kriel and Duvha power stations, Ramokgopa told the media: “My view has always been the biggest asset for any organisation is its workers and the reason we’re starting from the bottom up is to appreciate and understand the efforts being made at the station level.”

Padayachee said: “A good project leader needs to rebuild the morale of the power station people; you can imagine, it’s as low as you can get. The soul of Eskom is virtually destroyed.”

Padayachee said he was pleased with Ramokgopa’s approach, “and I’m hoping we are able to maintain this acceleration, hitting the ground sprinting. And also it will probably rejuvenate and re-energise the team.

“We have excellent people at various levels who are also working flat out at Eskom, especially Eskom Generation… literally keeping the lights burning.”

On Monday, Ramokgopa engaged with the management at power station level as well as unions and workers, “to affirm our confidence in the hard-working men and women on the ground who work tirelessly to resolve the load shedding problem. 

 “I am convinced that through collective efforts, load shedding can be resolved. Job well done to the Duvha Power Station team for increasing their energy availability factor to 70% in the past month thanks to technical solutions, improved efficiency, agile leadership and hard work.”

“I just hope he’s able to sustain this impetus… and that we get solutions sooner rather than later,” said Payadachee.

“Of course, some of it could be beyond the control of the project, like overseas supply chain, delivery, funding… but the minister seems to have taken the bull by its horns with tackling this project and this augurs well.” DM

* UPDATE: the minister made this comment despite widespread reports of corruption within Eskom, and a number of SIU and court cases, including the Special Investigating Unit securing another preservation order in matter related to corruption at Kusile Power Station, and a British court giving the Investigating Directorate the green light to extradite fugitive Michael Lomas who has been linked to the R745-million fraud and corruption case around the construction of Kusile.

Also read:

Daily Maverick takes Eskom to court to access corruption reports

Former Eskom bosses in the dock for Kusile R30m kickback deal

Zondo arrests: Four held over corruption at Eskom’s Kusile Power Station

Filthy seam of sabotage – how thieving cartels are plunging South Africa into darkness

A country ‘ungovernable’ — how Eskom plans to tackle the scourge of sabotage, fraud and corruption in 2023

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bryan Macpherson says:

    So typical of the ANC – look like you are doing something, anything and buy time. But photo opportunities will not put the lights on.

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    This Ramokgopa statement is troubling: “The challenges that we’ve had here [at Kusile], these are technical problems, they have nothing to do with so-called corruption.” This suggests that Ramokgopa’s Eskom solution is going to be to tinker around the low-hanging fruit edges so that there might be a marginal improvement in electricity generation, but leave the corrupt kickback system in place. It is common knowledge that Kusile and Medupi were born in ANC-Hitachi-based corruption. The minister is unable to correlate that fact with the resulting technical problems. He seems to have hit the ground sprinting away from the corruption problems that beset ESKOM.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      No, I think he has the right approach – he goes and see for himself and then start to work from there. The corruption that has happened, and that possibly caused the design flaws etc. he will not see now; he will see the design flaws. And I think maybe the focus so much on corruption in the press could have had a detrimental effect on the morale in the power stations, which then would have led to personnel not being motivated and then the availability factor will fall, because they would not try as hard to keep the generators running. But now that he is focusing on the proverbial ball and not the end result of the proverbial “test series” (if one could compare it to rugby goals, and with that attitude encourages technicians and process personnel to start focusing on what is before them, ie what they are supposed to be focusing on, it will definitely have a positive effect. And when the morale is low, people may well start to fall for the temptation of corruption, while, if their morale is built in this way, they may well start to chase the sources of corruption away instead, or begin to report those culprits. Clearly Ramokgopa’s experience as an engineer is very valuable in this problem solving of the management issues. I think maybe we should rather support him in this approach. Ok, of course then also support ANY ONE that wants to report corruption or prevent it in some other way. Let us be positive. The Eskom workers are also only human; let us treat them as such.

  • Dr Know says:

    Photo ‘Minister visiting Kusile’ shows a wet cooling tower in the background. Kusile has dry cooling towers, the blue structures suggest this is Kriel power station. Just saying, be accurate, stay credible.

  • Peter Doble says:

    It is mysterious that a relatively small technical issue on two power stations started 15 years ago have caused the collective engineering expertise and political will so much difficulty. While the new minister may be sprinting now, let’s hope that he doesn’t fall at the first hurdle.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    “Problems down to technical problems, not corruption, claims Ramokgopa.”

    I am sooooo happy that the president appointed this genius. Nobody else was able to identify the cause of the problems and he did it within weeks. He has already deserved the memorial the grateful consumers of electricity will build for him.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    So the minister starts by playing politics and making De Ruyter look bad. of course the problems are technical but corruption has stolen the money so the technical problems cannot be fixed! stop treating everyone like fools! As noted below the caption cannot even get it right, wrong power station. perhaps the reporter works for the ANC to spread disinformation!

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      That is why Ramaphosa appointed a project manager-cum-political executive to solve the issues. De Ruyter was only an official with no political clout. But Ramokgopa’s presence in the cabinet means that he can also give the ministers that are causing problems hell. And as an engineer none of those ministers will be able to fool around with him, because he has superior technical knowledge. We should keep in mind that a chimney and FGD unit has absolutely nothing to do with electricity in how they operate, and I think this has been overlooked up till now. And I am really impressed with the fact that he is getting the trade unions involved and are energizing the technical personnel. I have been in such situations and if, as I suspect, the real root cause of the problem is the morale of the work force that is zero, this approach will have a radical effect and before long. Reading what he is doing, I am not surprised at all that the situation seems to be improving already.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    Technical problems do not appear out of the blue. Where technical problems are not solved in the long run, incompetent people are at work and responsible.

  • Johan Buys says:

    why not IMMEDIATELY ask all existing IPP (they have grid infrastructure in place) to add solar and storage and increase for example a 100MW solar farm that currently supplies 0-100 MW for 500MWh a day into a unit that does 0-100MW for 1000MWh a day?

    We can roll out 6GW in under 2y with some prodding by our Chinese buddies. Solar plus storage on existing network interface should cost well under R1.40/kWh.

  • R S says:

    “The challenges that we’ve had here, these are technical problems, they have nothing to do with so-called corruption.”

    Is this all the evidence we need to assume that the new CEO is just an ANC cadre singing for his supper?

  • Alan Paterson says:

    Hitting the ground sprinting? I await with bated breath the group hugs, motivational speeches, prayer meetings.

  • Caroline de Braganza says:

    These publicity stunts by the new – and unnecessary – Minister of Electricity sicken me. They imply that former CEO Andre de Ruyter was not doing his job of visiting power plants, talking to managers and staff and apprising himself of the technical issues they faced. He didn’t seek publicity for his actions. He learned of the deep systemic problems at Eskom – including endemic corruption which the Minister casually dismisses – and gave up trying to fix Eskom after three years without political backing and support.

    De Ruyter was well aware of the core issues facing Eskom.

    The minister is merely repeating what we already knew. He wants the public to believe he is blessed with brilliance that should leave us trembling in awe at his magnificent insights! What worries me is that many people will be captured by this public relations stunt. The ANC doesn’t need to appoint a PR agency (remember Bell Pottinger?) to do the work for them as they have become experts in this field.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      I don’t think we must now play Ramokgopa off against De Ruyter. We should keep in mind that this guy can tackle both the technical and political issues; he is on the power station floor but at the same time he sits in the cabinet. Firstly he does not have to deal with the nitty-gritty of the management (because the CEO does that), and secondly he is not subject to political victimisation (because he is in between the politicians, at the same level as them, to repudiate any negative propaganda on the spot. I think the move to appoint him was a master stroke of Ramaphosa and it is time to consider giving credit for that instead of just always being negative towards anything that is being done. If I am correct, then with the presence of Ramakgopa, the successor of De Ruyter will have a far easier task.

  • Marius Laker says:

    Miraculously power stations now work fine! Maybe the mafia bosses gave instruction that all sabotage must stop for the time being, until they get more clarity as to what extent they and there corrupt structures are known by name (as inferred in the recent Daily Maverick report), and to cover there tracks?

  • Sam Shu says:

    Yes, feeding rocks and low grade coal from distant coal fields into power stations designed for high grade coal from coalfields on which they were constructed is totally an technically problem.

    My apologies for the sarcasm, but this nonsense is so tiresome and the fact that they continue to trot this out when, nobody, absolutely nobody believes it is shameful.

  • Paula Monteith says:

    Well written Julia

  • Geoff Krige says:

    No corruption in ESKOM??? Ask the ANC spin-doctors and they will tell you there is no corruption anywhere in the country, not in the municipalities, not at Transnet, not at SAA, not at Optimum Colliery or Vrede Dairy, nowhere. Come on Mr Electricity Minister get real. Sort out corruption and replace cadre deployment with appointment of competent people and we will suddenly find the technical problems are being rapidly resolved

    • Lawrence Sisitka says:

      This is very late, and it has all been said before, but just to summarise many of the comments: If we didn’t know it before, we sure as hell do now. The ANC has absolutely no interest in or intention of rooting out the corruption that is destroying SA. They have no intention of even naming and shaming their high-ranking friends and colleagues leading the corruption charge at Eskom and elsewhere, let alone – God forbid – supporting the judiciary in apprehending and charging them. So we are really back at the very bottom of the barrel, with nothing left to scrape after all Rhamaphosa’s vacuous promises. They will protect each other for eternity, or, of course, until the second coming. There is no other solution but a complete annihilation of the ANC at the next elections. But the opposition is such a mess! I can only return to my, by now well-worn trope that the system that we claim as democratic, is really only a step on the way and we, and other countries, need to develop a genuine ground-up democratic system which is built on trust and accountability. I’m not sure if the planet can survive long enough for us to achieve that.

      • Graeme de Villiers says:

        Well said Lawrence. In an age of instant gratification, any alternative government will have to perform miracles to undo the mess the ANC has made over the last 3 decades. And obvioously, when that does not happen, the spin will be ‘See? We told you so’ and the disillusioned folk will go back to voting for the ANC again, because let’s face it, it will take years to undo and redo. However, the collective voting population will be convinced that whoever takes over (chance be a fine thing) is not up to the task.
        Obama took 4 years to try and undo George W’s mess and then really made a difference for the next 4 years. And then along came Trump, because there is a fundamental lack of maturity and understanding of process. Rhetoric and cheap politicking is all that seems to convince people.

  • L G says:

    This article reads like PR for the ANC; poor journalism this time round (but love DM generally and you can’t always get it right). The addition of the update at the bottom, which give balance to the ludicrous comment of no corruption at Kusile, more or less admits this. The contents of that update should be incorporated within the article.

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