End of load shedding ‘in sight’, says electricity minister after another Kusile unit comes back on stream
Still bleeding green and gold at the South African Green Hydrogen Summit in Cape Town on Monday, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa equated the recent period of reduced load shedding with the Springboks’ continued success in the Rugby World Cup.
‘Before we get to 365 days without load shedding, we first have to go one day without load shedding, then two days and then three days and so forth,” said Energy Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa at the second edition of the Green Hydrogen Summit in Cape Town on Monday.
“Just like the Rugby World Cup and our Springboks, they first have to win the quarterfinals, then the semifinals and then the finals before they can lift the Webb Ellis Cup… The analogy here is for us to get to 365 days without load shedding,” he continued.
The Boks seem to have fulfilled their secondary duty of inspiring hope in South Africa once again, as Ramokgopa took stock of the country’s progress in combating its energy crisis.
Both Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to the Boks’ win on Sunday in their speeches at the summit.
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Ramokgopa explained the improvement in the power situation as a combination of reduced demand, better plant performance and more renewable energy uptake by households and industries.
“When the President was speaking about short-term pain for long-term gain, it was exactly that… We invested on the maintenance side with the R254-billion debt relief (Eskom received from National Treasury) and had to place a lot of resources on fixing these units…
“What we are seeing now is that when units come back online, they remain on for the longer hours, so they produce for the longest hours without fail.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Load shedding should decline for summer — latest Eskom prediction
Lungile Mashele, an independent energy analyst, confirmed that Eskom’s current unplanned outages are the lowest they have been since November 2022.
“Eskom’s Unplanned Capability Loss Factor (UCLF) is currently 30%. It’s been averaging 34% for the year to date. Getting it below 30% will be a major psychological breakthrough for the Eskom team.
“Planned maintenance is also up as part of the summer maintenance programme – the key is to continue with this performance till next April. Hopefully, we will have a better fleet going into winter next year.”
Ramokgopa said that if one looked at the available capacity now, “we are on the other side of 28,000MW consistently”, and when you look at Eskom’s UCLF, the rate at which these units are unreliable and not sufficient, is improving.
Another reason behind the reduced load shedding, according to Ramokgopa, is that more people are using renewable sources of energy.
Monique le Roux from the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at the University of Stellenbosch said projects registered by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa up to the end of September are sitting at 5,800MW, and that there is a significant contribution from private rooftop solar PV installations during the daytime hours and the continued lower stages of load shedding during the day compared with the early morning and evening peak periods which typically have higher load shedding.
Ramokgopa said, “The primary driver behind this more stabilised system is the (improved) performance of units which over time will be even more complemented as more households and industries make use of new sources of energy.”
As the development of green hydrogen gets under way in the country, it can be used to move electricity availability forward and strengthen the grid as the country tackles critical energy challenges.
Green hydrogen is created when water is split into oxygen and hydrogen using wind or solar energy. With its associated large-scale renewable energy production, it has the potential to support the expansion of the electricity transmission infrastructure
to add additional renewable energy generation capacity and to support the local development of renewable energy.
It is expected to play a big role in global transitions towards net zero energy systems as well as decarbonisation in aviation, long haul freight, shipping, and heavy industry.
With the exorbitant potential of renewable energy resources and some existing hydrogen production facilities, the first South African Green Hydrogen Summit in 2022 sought to position South Africa as one of the main future suppliers of green hydrogen products to the world.
This year, delegates hoped to take the next step in affirming South Africa as an investment destination of choice and a world leader in the green energy space. It set out to do this by focusing on scaling up regional cooperation around green hydrogen.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s burgeoning hydrogen sector touted as potential creator of 30,000 jobs
Ramokgopa said, “When we said we are going to end load shedding, we were serious… This is no act of God and there is no rug here. This (improvement) is a result of the investment we were making when people were ridiculing us.
“We stayed true to the course, focused on the bouncing ball and closed our ears to the noise. We knew what we were doing and could see the results.”
Eskom’s Energy Availability Factor (EAF) is currently at 57% and if this performance continues, it puts it in good stead to meet its 65% EAF target by March 2024. That will be the real measure of success, said Mashele.
In response to questions sent by Daily Maverick, Eskom said there was reason to be optimistic that the current improved load shedding patterns would continue well into the summer months given the performance of the generation fleet, the successes of demand side management and the full return of all Kusile units.
Eskom said that over the past few months, unplanned generation capacity losses had decreased by about 2,000MW, or the equivalent of two stages of load shedding.
Power stations are showing consistent improvement in performance and maintenance, giving desired results, and some units are showing a low frequency of unplanned outages.
The return of unit 3 at Kusile on 30 September, which has been out of service for almost a year, is consistently delivering 800MW.
Then, on Monday, Eskom announced that Kusile’s unit 1 is “now on load”.
“The unit is returned to service a month and a half ahead of the original schedule and brings an additional 800MW into the grid,” an Eskom statement said.
“The two units are both adding 1,600MW back into the grid, improving the available generation capacity. This signifies that Eskom is on the right path to reducing and ultimately ending load shedding.”
Kusile’s unit 2 is expected to return shortly. Unit 5 is yet to be connected to the grid. It was initially planned for completion on 28 October 2023, but has been delayed.
Eskom’s demand-side management initiatives have also assisted in reducing demand.
For context, Stages 5 and 6 were last implemented on 15 September; Stage 4 on 16 September and Stage 3 on 30 September.
Now, load shedding has been suspended during the day across the country.
Eskom said, “Unfortunately, the evening peak periods still require load shedding to be implemented as there is insufficient capacity to meet the demand for electricity during these periods.
“The load shedding overnight has been implemented to replenish pumped storage dam levels for use throughout the weekly cycle as designed. If some parts of the country have not experienced any load shedding at all, this may be due to the time that the area was not scheduled for load shedding.”
Mashele said, “I wouldn’t say there’s an end to load shedding soon, but there has definitely been reduced load shedding. The question now is what the Integrated Resource Plan 2023 holds and what will replace Eskom’s fleet that is planned for decommissioning.”
Stellenbosch University’s Le Roux said Eskom continued to lean quite heavily on its diesel generators to supplement generation requirements.
“Our data for the first three quarters of the year unfortunately does not show an upward trajectory in the EAF and the overall availability of Eskom’s generation fleet, particularly the coal power stations.
“It seems like Eskom has managed their unplanned outages better in recent weeks, but [it] is definitely still too early to say whether this will be sustained in the long run and whether they have really turned a corner.”
Le Roux agreed there was some light at the end of the tunnel with the return to service of units at the Medupi and Kusile power stations. DM