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