South Africa

POWER CRISIS

Electricity Minister raises hopes of fewer hours of load shedding – but we’re not yet out of the dark

Electricity Minister raises hopes of fewer hours of load shedding – but we’re not yet out of the dark
Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images)

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa was upbeat during a media briefing on Sunday where he reported that load shedding could ease due to a drop in electricity demand and the expected return of units to service.

“As we begin to see additional improvements, you’re likely going to see that during part of the day we might not have load shedding. But of course, it’s a function of the extent of the demand and the rate at which we do the planned maintenance,” said Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa on Sunday 27 August, during his weekly media briefing on the implementation of the Energy Action Plan.

Eskom will begin to ramp up planned maintenance, after the power utility had decreased maintenance over the winter season, said Ramokgopa. 

“As part of the winter outlook, we did indicate that we are going to slow down planned outages, and once we get out of a very difficult winter we are going to ramp it up, because we need to protect the generating units to ensure their sustainability and reliability in the future,” he said.  

Peak demand has dipped as we move out of the doldrums of winter to spring. “This gives us an opportunity to ramp up planned maintenance, because demand goes down, we need to improve the health of these,” said Ramokgopa.

He said Eskom’s unplanned capability loss factor – or unplanned losses – has dropped from 17,000MW, but still remains above 15,000MW. Ramokgopa described this as Eskom’s “Achilles heel” and said it was something that is receiving attention.

This week, the grid required power cuts at stages 1 and 3. Load shedding has been less intense than it has been in a very long time. On Sunday, 27 August, Eskom announced that load shedding would be suspended between 2am and 4pm, “owing to lower weekend demand and adequate emergency generation reserves.”

Speaking to the media, the Minister claimed Eskom has been averaging a 60% energy availability factor (EAF). (EAF measures the average percentage of electricity that power stations have available to dispatch energy at any one time. A high EAF indicates that plants are maintained and operating well.)

However, Eskom’s latest state of the system report indicates that Eskom’s average annual EAF for the period 1 January 2023 to 20 August 2023, stands at only 54.5%. This is still lower than Eskom’s EAF during the same period last year, which stood at 60%. 

Distribution woes in Ditsobotla

The minister provided feedback on his visit to Ditsobotla Local Municipality in North West this week, where Lichtenburg – the seat of the council – has been without electricity for more than five weeks, due to debt owed to Eskom and technical challenges on the distribution network. 

Ditsobotla is among the country’s worst run municipalities, and has been plagued by power issues and water woes in years past.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Residents of a collapsed North West municipality hope by-elections will bring them a saviour

“The one area that remains an albatross, is on the distribution side, and there are a number of issues at play there,” said Ramokgopa. 

The first issue, he said, is the “tension” between the South African Local Government Association and Eskom over the terrain of distribution. “If you go to the Constitution, the responsibility for electricity reticulation resides with municipalities, but of course there are legacy issues. Eskom is responsible for about 50% of reticulation in the country, and the rest sits with local municipalities,” he said. 

Ramokgopa said a number of municipalities are facing issues of financial distress, and are not in a position to provide what is needed to support the distribution side of energy reticulation in this country. This includes the maintenance of assets, including transformers and mini substations, said the Minister.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Government comes to Eskom’s rescue by taking over R254bn of its debt 

“There has been significant underinvestment by municipalities, averaging about R2.5-billion per annum on the distribution side, and that has resulted in these assets failing, and as a result a number of suburbs and communities are not having the kind of quality of electricity as expected,” he said.

The second issue is the ballooning municipal debt to Eskom. Last week, Ramokgopa said municipalities’ R63.2-billion debt to Eskom is having a significant impact on energy infrastructure and thus the development of a distribution programme. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Municipal debt stunts Eskom distribution efforts, says minister of electricity

The total debt owed to Eskom by municipalities has surged by more than R13-billion between July 2022 and August 2023. 

Ramokgopa said it will require “some technical or financial solution” to address the issue of municipal debt. 

The third issue, Ramokgopa said, is that there are a number of non-technical losses that municipalities are experiencing – referring specifically to illegal connections to infrastructure for electricity distribution.

“As a result, we are overburdening these assets and they are exceeding their designed capacity, and as a result they blow and municipalities don’t have the kind of capital that is required to replace the transformers that have failed. 

The fourth issue relates to notifiable maximum demand. This refers to “the contracted maximum amount of electricity between a municipality and Eskom,” which many municipalities are exceeding, he said.

Ramokgopa said that, when he visited Ditsobotla, the municipal area had been without electricity for more than five weeks as a result of transformers which had failed.

“I am happy to announce that the transformers have been replaced … The problem has been resolved. My view is that this is a short-term intervention – in the future we are going to land in the same problem,” he said, adding that he has agreed to work with the municipality, and the provincial and national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to work on a permanent solution. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andre Swart says:

    … blah …. blah … blah …

    Spin!

    By stating the obvious over and over again, nothing get’s fixed.

    Rather tell us which ANC cadres inside Eskom have been jailed so far for looting, stealing and sabotageing the organisation!

  • Denise Smit says:

    Was there an update on how much billions we spend on diesel and gas to keep the impression that they are fixing things. We know he is not telling the full story to paint a rosy picture that the ANC can fix things for next years election. What about the Chinese magic wand. Denise Smit

    • Jimbo Smith says:

      Nope. Minister Sparky would never tell the true story. It’s all about “smoke & mirrors” while these fat cats lead the life and don’t give a continental shite about the tax paying citizens who pay for their largesse.

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