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Ramokgopa blames ‘perfect storm’ for bumped-up blackouts, but says ‘lessons’ were learnt – here they are

Ramokgopa blames ‘perfect storm’ for bumped-up blackouts, but says ‘lessons’ were learnt – here they are
Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa briefs the media on progress made regarding security issues related on the implementation of the Energy Action Plan. 17 July 2023. (Photo: Jairus Mmutle / GCIS)

The electricity minister was apologetic about the dramatic ramping up of load shedding over the past week. And what was to blame? A perfect storm, he told the media on Monday.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said on Monday that “significant lessons” have been learnt from last week’s cold snap that caused the national grid to teeter as demand soared and generation capacity plummeted.

The grid has been gyrating all year, but rolling blackouts had lessened in the weeks before an icy cold front caused the grid to falter. This was largely because Eskom was doing less maintenance, and because of a reduction in demand for power in June, Ferial Haffajee reported.  

At a media briefing on Monday, Ramokgopa said South Africa had seen a “significant amount of reprieve” in the 21 days leading up to Thursday, 6 July. 

“We have been able to sustain a relatively healthy performance of units, but of course, we experienced a significant reduction in the available capacity starting on Thursday, [6 July].”

A woman walks past a mural of a child holding a bulb, by artist Mr Ekse, in Orlando West, Soweto. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Eskom moved the country into Stage 4 and 6 power cuts last week amid the brutal cold snap which brought icy conditions across the country. The utility said the increase in load shedding was caused by the loss of additional generating units overnight, the extensive use of its open-cycle gas turbines and the inability to replenish pumped storage dam levels, along with demand for power which exceeded expectations. 

An apologetic Ramokgopa said three lessons had been learnt from this experience.

The first was that “the grid remains vulnerable and susceptible to plummeting availability of megawatts”. This was despite a “stabilisation” of the grid reported by Ramokgopa earlier this month.

The second lesson was that the inclement weather caused South Africans who had invested in solar power, batteries and inverters to draw power from the national grid.

“When you have inclement weather, when you have a situation as we experienced on Tuesday and Wednesday where parts of Gauteng experienced snow, you are starved of the sun and are not getting any privilege of getting support from PV solar.”

“So what that means is that those who’ve taken the self-initiative of ensuring that they’ve installed solar panels, batteries and inverters, they also had to draw from the grid. And in addition, they also had to draw from the grid to recharge their batteries. What that means is elevated levels of demand,” Ramokgopa said.

The third lesson was “when there is a meeting point of plummeting generation capacity and elevated demand, then we are in significant trouble”.

“This is what I refer to as a perfect storm. We got hit by that perfect storm – available capacity went down and demand surged… The result of a perfect storm is the intensification of load shedding,” he said.

The minister said the increased load shedding was attributed to some units not recovering as expected. Eskom expected to return more than 5,000MW of generating capacity by Tuesday this week. 

See Ramokgopa’s presentation here:

Is Stage 8 still ‘a possibility’ this winter?

Ramokgopa’s take is that the worst is behind us – the country “rode the most difficult [wave]” when we experienced a brutal cold snap last week. (The South African Weather Service has warned that another strong cold front is expected to hit the country on Wednesday.)

“At this point, we really don’t anticipate going to those stages of load shedding. We think we have this under control,” he said. 

While the minister boasted a case of lessons learnt, Eskom has said Stage 8 power cuts, albeit unlikely, remain a possibility this winter

“A high demand for electricity for the remainder of winter will be determined largely by how cold weather sets in across the country in the coming weeks and what the generation capacity available will be when that occurs. While less likely, given the current performance of the Eskom generation fleet, Stage 8 load shedding is still a possibility this winter,” the utility told Daily Maverick last Wednesday.

Security issues

Police Minister Bheki Cele, who was set to join Ramokgopa and provide an update on the security issues relating to the implementation of the Energy Action Plan, was absent from Monday’s briefing.

Providing a brief update on security issues, Ramokgopa said that since 1 April 2022, 2,147 Eskom-related cases have been reported to the South African Police Service.

Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa briefs the media. (Photo: Jairus Mmutle / GCIS)

About 1,586 of these cases were under investigation, and 126 arrests had been made since 1 April last year.

“It’s gradual, but it’s meaningful progress that we’re making,” he said.

In addition to the technical solutions Eskom is seeking to resolve load shedding, Ramokgopa said the utility remains focused on addressing “some of the underlying problems which have been fraud, corruption and issues of security at Eskom”.

After being announced as the country’s first minister of electricity in March 2023, Ramokgopa has come under fire for his public statements that Eskom’s challenges were technical problems, which had nothing to do with “so-called corruption”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dear Minister Ramokgopa, here is a list of corruption cases impacting on Eskom

The minister later contradicted his claims, after a tour of all Eskom’s power stations, finding there was corruption at the Medupi and Tutuka stations. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Gosh, the Minister is speaking as if this is the first cold winter SA has ever experienced! with the 21 day reprieve you got the time should have been spent fixing the mess the ANC has got us into by not maintaining our power stations. look at the three fingers pointing at yourself i.e., ANC.

  • Philip Wernberg says:

    “So what that means is that those who’ve taken the self-initiative of ensuring that they’ve installed solar panels, batteries and inverters, they also had to draw from the grid. And in addition, they also had to draw from the grid to recharge their batteries. What that means is elevated levels of demand,” Ramokgopa said. Once again lets blame those trying to resolve the power problems and not the incompetence of Escom.

    • TERS MYNHARDT says:

      “The second lesson was that the inclement weather caused South Africans who had invested in solar power, batteries and inverters to draw power from the national grid.” In other words thanks to everyone that has invested in solar otherwise we would have been at Stage 6+ all the time!

      What a shame-SA’ners paying all our taxes to also pay for this Minister’s salary but we are in any event doing his job for him…

  • Georg Scharf Scharf says:

    I am glad this minister can make conclusions and have lessons learnt. Nice. But the prime cause still remains – it all is still caused by the ANC’s and it’s thirty odd years of negligence, arrogance, conniving, corruption, incompatence and so on and so forth. Lest we forget!

  • William Stucke says:

    “The second lesson was that the inclement weather caused South Africans who had invested in solar power, batteries and inverters to draw power from the national grid.”

    Why are you picking on those with solar PV systems, Minister? Don’t you think that those who don’t have these might have contributed to the extra demand during the cold snap, just a teeny-weeny bit?

  • Johan Buys says:

    Please ask him how Medupi, with one of its six units exploded, managed to achieve 88% EAF according to one of the PR stories?

    I expect that the new redefined and constituted 80% is the new 100% which means 60% is now 75% but only if you achieved 30% for a pass in Matric Maths Lit.

    Clowns, circus, performing monkeys, flat coke and stale popcorn in the dark

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Just before things went south he promised no loadshedding. This is just more spin. Sniping at people who’ve relieved the grid by putting in solar is pathetic. I half expected to see him dressed for the part in a souwester. Maybe on his next fashion shoot?

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Lesson 4 dear Minister, is rather to keep quiet. That is why your colleague below the hat was absent. He slowly learns that nobody believes the incoherent sounds coming out of his mouth. You should follow suit.

  • The Proven says:

    What I learn from it is that demand is less because South Africans have invested in solar, not because you are managing it better than De Ruyter and his management team did. Secondly I am learning that you are over-burdening the units again, reaping the benefits of the conservative approach of the previous management. The most galing aspect is that after all the above, you claim that you are managing things better than the poor management of the previous team. Pathetic!

  • dylan smith says:

    What’s really interesting, is the size of the stabilising effect all these ppp’s have on the grid in normal times. This guy is a total tool, in every sense. In regards to the perfect storm, I am sure it’s the third time a different Eskom manager has invoked the mighty power of said storm.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Instead of blaming perfect storms, it’s time to start harnessing the lightning.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Either he is incredibly stupid to think we buy this when we all know that winter is ALWAYS cold, or, like his cynical comrades he is trying to persuade less educated South Africans that the ANC are victims again. Haven’t made up my mind yet, but I know my suburb hasn’t had electricity for that past 14 hours. Idiots.

  • Joe Soap says:

    Unfortunately there is nothing they can do with the lessons learnt. If one ignores a problem for 17 years this is what happens lots of lessons, but not much room for action. Think we give the ANC time to reflect on what they have done by voting them out of power and giving them time for this reflection.

  • A P says:

    It is quite sad that an electricity minister doesn’t know how solar works. It was cloudy, not total darkness. Batteries would have still been charged adequately by the available indirect light, translating in less strain on the grid.

    It’s pretty transparent that Tax and Coal are the only conclusions our honourable ministers will ever fish for.

    • Robert Dempster Dempster says:

      The inclement weather did not affect the whole country at the same time. If those of us with solar systems were able to feed into the grid, it might have balanced the demand in areas with heavy cloud. In any case, is it possible to attribute increased demand to charging batteries and not increased use of heaters? It’s like saying decreased demand is due to people switching off their geysers between 5 and 9 p.m. Really minister? Show me your evidence.

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    There is a general election looming and the ANC need desperately to spin out of the load shedding black hole they alone have dug for themselves. The three lessons that the Minister highlights are nothing new or profound and the simple truth is that until generation capacity exceeds demand on a consistent and sustainable basis load shedding will continue to be a risk at very short notice.

  • Bryan Bailey says:

    What amazes me is that they are still installing infrastructure eg in the Eastern Cape with no added power generation?!?!? This has to be an ANC election ploy and interference by politicians in ESKOM affairs

  • Alley Cat says:

    I am shocked that he says there is corruption at Eskom? Wow?? Maybe he read Andre de Ruyter’s book?

  • Robert Douglas says:

    Ramokgopa obviously places his party affiliation above the need to be frank & open with the public . We need honest effort here , not rambling waffle! Of course crime has played & probably still plays a major role here , which apparently is not to be spoken about in public. One suspects that the beneficiaries of these honeypots must be government members themselves !?

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Isn’t this what the Eskom simulation software would predict? This was not a perfect storm which would have included another Kusile chimney falling down, some sabotage ( saboteurs told this is not your time to eat) .

  • Confucious Says says:

    Pity you couldn’t learn any lessons at school! For every hour day that we have less load shedding under this cabbage, means that it’s another day with less maintenance!

  • Brian Doyle says:

    Quite a spin doctor is our “energy” minister. The fact is that Eskom problems are still there, and only time and cutting out corruption will sort out the energy supply problems. The ANC have been too slow in investing in alternative power sources, and definitely too slow in sorting out the corruption which permeates from the highest levels

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    I have just consulted my crystal ball.
    It showed me Andre’ De Ruyter leaving Megawatt Park.
    Then there was a vision of the maintenance people sitting drinking hot chocolate and coffee.
    The turbines have been running so well 24/7.
    Suddenly, the crystal ball went black.

  • Pierre Rossouw says:

    So it is evident that the minister of electricity did not pay attention to the Weather Bureau forecast of the approaching very severe cold front last week, instead claimed that there was sufficient generation capacity. He was wrong.

    Then to state that “significant lessons” were learned – one would think that learning lessons was something to bring to the job, not to learn after appointment. And we hope that considering weather forecasts is one of those lessons he learned.

  • David Mark says:

    After 15 years of loadshedding, “we are still learning”. Pathetic.

  • L Dennis says:

    When the unjust rules crime increases theft increases. The only political parties that should serve is the servant leadership parties. The continual window dressers that love to be called honourable is being paid from hard earned taxes. To all the corrupt window dressers locusts clowns you are a shameful disgrace to the people of South Africa. I pray for our beautiful country. Nkosi sikelel iafrica.

  • Scott Gordon says:

    Pretty much all quiet about Koeberg !
    Things not going too well down there either .
    I know repairs were delayed , what is the issue now ?
    Will unit 1 be complete before the end of the year ?

  • J C says:

    Hmmm, this guy is sharp! Luckily, lessons have been learned – in what, who knows. We look forward to some more pearls of wisdom from this useless ANC cadre and hope that in the meantime, he will remember that winters are generally cold and that people might want to warm themselves using some electricity.

  • Vas K says:

    Absolutely amazing. Every comment is pessimistic. But I suppose when you deal with “cadres”, the correct word is realistic. Just the fact that they still call themselves cadres shows how clueless these guys are. The word cadre has become synonymous with incompetents and criminals. I would be seriously offended if someone calls me that.

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