‘We were never at Stage 8’ — Ramokgopa dismisses speculation Joburg hit a load shedding record
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa told the media on Sunday that load shedding had only reached Stage 6 at the weekend and the return of two units at Kusile Power Station would help reduce rolling blackouts.
In a media briefing on Sunday, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa was at pains to stress that Eskom had not implemented Stage 8 load shedding at the weekend. He also shared an update on what he sees as a forthcoming “buffer” against higher levels of load shedding during the festive season.
Asked to comment about online speculation that Eskom had been at Stage 8 load shedding, the minister said unequivocally: “We were never at Stage 8. One of the things that I committed to is that we are going to be transparent, we’ll share with you the honest truth — we were never at Stage 8. The experiences of people in the various localities, that I cannot deny, but remember that responsibility in the incidence of Johannesburg, Eskom has handed it over to City Power.”
On 30 October, Eskom confirmed in a joint media statement with City Power that it “has handed over load shedding operations to City Power effective 6 November”.
The minister, seeking to emphasise the point, said: “I want to repeat on record: we were never at Stage 8, we were always at Stage 6.”
The questions came about after anecdotal reports that some residents in Johannesburg went without electricity for 10 hours or more in a day. Daily Maverick asked City Power for comment, but had not received a response by the time of publication.
Daily Maverick reported on Friday that at noon on that day, SA was moved to Stage 6 power cuts as diesel reserves ran low.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Yes, it’s Black Friday, and SA is back to Stage 6 for the weekend amid pressure on reserves
Eskom, in a statement later on Friday, said the push to Stage 6 was due to the breakdown of five generating units over the previous 24 hours, which resulted in a shortage of generation capacity. Additionally, it said, it needed to replenish its emergency reserves of diesel.
Adding more detail on Sunday, the minister said: “On the 24th, where we went with regards to intensity of load shedding, if you look at the unplanned capacity loss factor, that is the rate at which the units are failing plus the partial load losses, we are sitting at about 15,500 [megawatts] as we reported on Friday … So your major issue was not only unplanned capacity loss factor, really your issue was on the demand, the surge that had gone up.”
Ramokgopa sought to portray the situation in a positive light, saying that notwithstanding the recent bout of intense load shedding, South Africa’s yearslong electricity crisis was moving towards resolution.
Key among these alleged reasons for optimism was the return of two generating units at Kusile Power Station, which he referred to as being a buffer against more intense levels of load shedding.
He said: “If we build an additional buffer, it means that we are less prone to these major fluctuations in the intensity of load shedding and that’s why Unit number 2 and Unit number 5 of Kusile are important.
“We’re targeting those two to come [online at the] end of the month, that is Unit 2, and Unit 5 by the third week of December.”
In September, Daily Maverick reported that Ramakgopa said that four units at Kusile Power Station were expected to come back online by the end of 2023.
One of the units is undergoing planned maintenance, while the other three have been offline due to a flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) mechanism that was damaged in October 2022 at Unit 1, and affected the units’ stacks [chimneys]. An FGD is a mechanism that helps to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) that goes into the atmosphere. Each unit produces 720MW.
Since then, the utility has seen the return to service of Kusile’s Unit 1 on 16 October — a month and a half ahead of schedule — which brought an additional 800MW to the grid. That followed the recommissioning of Unit 3 at the end of September. This means a combined 1,600MW has been added back to the grid.
Expanding on the notion of long-overdue generation units returning to act as a buffer against more severe load shedding, Ramokgopa said, “Once you build that buffer, even if you had to have this extraordinary event, there’s some degree of buffer and therefore the rate at which we intensify load shedding might not be as severe as what we have experienced over the past 30 hours or so.”
Talking about projected electricity demand for the festive season, the minister said that Eskom had provided him with a summer outlook and that bringing back Kusile’s units 2 and 5 would have an impact.
“What we also know about December is that the energy-intensive major industry is closing, so you’re going to have a demand that is going to dip.”
He explained how the buffer would help during the festive season.
“As these two units come back, our unplanned capacity loss factor, we hope it will dip below 14,000 megawatts, and therefore we should be having significantly lower stages of load shedding and, at some point, there will be days that you will not have load shedding at all and we’re really confident about that projection.” DM