New electricity minister Ramokgopa ‘hits the ground sprinting,’ as he visits all Eskom power stations
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?”
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.
Due to the significantly lower than anticipated demand for electricity today, loadshedding will be suspended at 11:00 today until 16:00 on Tuesday 21 March, when Stage 2 loadshedding will be implemented.
— Eskom Hld SOC Ltd (@Eskom_SA) March 20, 2023
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.”
— @SAgovnews (@SAgovnews) March 21, 2023
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.”
I am convinced that through collective efforts, loadshedding 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. pic.twitter.com/RC2ZcBRXuq
— Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa (@Kgosientsho_R) March 20, 2023
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.