Ramokgopa hails Eskom’s ‘sustained, improved’ performance for keeping lights on – but Koeberg worries persist
South Africans have seen the light in recent weeks, with Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa saying reduced blackouts are the result of ‘sustained, improved performance’ at Eskom’s power plants. But concerns over Koeberg’s life extension linger.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said on Monday that sustained improvements in the performance of some of Eskom’s power stations are behind the recent period of reduced load shedding.
“The last time that we had a briefing, I did indicate that in our calculation and summation, we have turned a corner – although we are not out of the woods yet. But I think that we are beginning to show sustained, improved performance over an extended period of time and this is good news in that it is an affirmation and validation of the work that the team is doing at Eskom,” he said.
The minister said an “exceptional amount of work” is being done by Eskom to get South Africa out of the energy bind.
The country is currently experiencing no load shedding. Power cuts have been less intense than they have been in a long time.
To track the days and stages of load shedding, see The Outlier here.
Eskom said on Sunday that load shedding would remain suspended and only resume at 4pm on Tuesday, due to the continued improvement in generation and fully recovered emergency reserves.
Stage 1 load shedding will be implemented from 4pm on Tuesday to 5am on Wednesday, and suspended again from 5am to 4pm on Wednesday. The power utility said this pattern will be repeated until further notice.
“Outside the fact that our lights are on for most of the day, we’ve seen that we’ve come out of a period of sustained, no load shedding – that’s significant on multiple levels,” said Ramokgopa.
The return to service of Kusile Unit 1 on 16 October – a month and a half ahead of schedule – brought an additional 800MW to the grid, and followed the recommisioning of Unit 3 at the end of September. This means a combined 1,600MW has been added back to the grid.
“We are beginning to see the fruits – the return of Kusile Unit 3 and 1 ahead of schedule is testament to the amount of effort this team is making,” said Ramokgopa.
Read more in Daily Maverick: End of load shedding ‘in sight’, says electricity minister after another Kusile unit comes back on stream
Eskom’s average available capacity stood at 29,418MW last week, compared with 27,410MW in May 2023. This shows a “gradual, sustained improvement in relation to available capacity,” said Ramokgopa.
Breakdowns stood at about 13,000MW last week, according to Ramokgopa.
Eskom’s Eric Shunmagum confirmed that the utility had reached a 60% energy availability factor (EAF) last week.
“I think this has a direct correlation to the minister’s feedback, in terms of, as soon as we start breaching 13,000MW we start to see a higher EAF. This has had a ripple [effect] on the open-cycle gas turbine [OCGT] usage… With the improved performance from generation we are definitely seeing less consumption,” he said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Eskom news
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Shunmagum confirmed that Eskom will still use the OCGTs during the morning and evening peaks to “balance the system”. He added that OCGT diesel consumption for the past month, against Eskom’s budget, has been much less.
In response to questions from journalists about the risk of both nuclear reactors at Koeberg nuclear power station being shut down simultaneously for life extension, Ramokgopa said he didn’t “anticipate that situation” playing out.
The minister confirmed that he was yet to receive a feedback report from outgoing Eskom board chairperson Mpho Makwana about the issues at Koeberg, which he had requested in mid-July 2023.
“I am yet to receive that feedback, and of course we have made follow-ups,” he said.
Koeberg’s refurbishment for long-term operation has been marred by delays. Daily Maverick reported last Friday that there would be a further delay in returning Unit 1 to service, which it was supposed to do on 3 November. It is now expected to return to commercial operation on 13 November.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Risk of total shutdown of Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station continues to increase
The shutdown of Unit 2 at Koeberg will, therefore, also be delayed, if necessary, until after Unit 1 is back online. This is to avoid a situation where both units are down at the same time. If both were out at the same time, the national grid would lose 1,840MW of power.
“It is something that is receiving our attention,” said Ramokgopa, adding that he will be meeting with Eskom teams at Koeberg to discuss measures that the utility is putting in place to avoid the worst-case scenario of both units offline at once.
“Of course, it will be catastrophic to subtract from the kind of progress we are making. But most significantly, just undermining the nuclear programme in the country,” said Ramokgopa. DM