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POWER CRISIS

Ramokgopa explains why we hit Stage 6 and sticks to Ramaphosa’s ‘end of load shedding’ claim

Ramokgopa explains why we hit Stage 6 and sticks to Ramaphosa’s ‘end of load shedding’ claim
Illustratiave image, from left: Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa; Eskom coal-fired power station (Photos: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach | Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Flickr | Adobe Stock)

Eskom increased planned maintenance during summer, which left it without a buffer for the unexpected, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said on Sunday. He called this a ‘calculated risk’ that would pay off over time.

On Thursday night, mere hours after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during the State of the Nation Address (Sona) that the government was “confident that the worst is behind us and the end of load shedding is finally within reach”, Eskom announced that load shedding would be ramped up to Stage 3 due to the need to replenish pumped storage dams.

Things escalated from there, and Ekom announced Stage 6 load shedding in the early hours of Saturday morning — mainly attributed to the power utility losing nine generating units, amounting to 4,400 megawatts of power, due to boiler tube leaks. 

At a media briefing on Sunday, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa repeatedly clarified to the media that despite the escalated levels of load shedding, the President was correct and South Africa was getting closer to the end of load shedding. 

Daily Maverick reported that Ramaphosa said in his Sona that thanks to a major debt relief package enabling Eskom to make investments in maintenance and transmission infrastructure and SA’s continuing renewable energy programme, the end of load shedding was near.

A calculated risk

“There is nothing new that the President has said,” Ramokgopa said on Sunday, adding that load shedding had decreased over the past few months. 

He said part of Eskom’s summer plan was to ramp up planned maintenance during the warmer months when there was lower energy demand. 

However, with this plan came the risk of not having a “buffer” to fall back on when there were unplanned outages.

Ramokgopa said this was why load shedding reached Stage 6 at the end of November.

“But for the remainder of November we have outperformed the curve, which is why the President is saying we have light at the end of the tunnel,” Ramokgopa said.

“We’ve taken a calculated risk, and I have said to the country, in the effort to resolve load shedding we are not going to cut any corners. There’s a price you pay for ensuring you do things the right way.”

However, he said, Stage 6 and Stage 5 were outliers and “should not be something we’re accustomed to”.

Eskom announced on Sunday that it had managed to successfully replenish its pumped storage dam levels over the previous two days and had brought some generation units back online, resulting in the reduction of load shedding to Stage 5 from midday on Sunday.

Ramokgopa said at the briefing that Eskom had already bought two of the nine units taken offline for boiler issues back online, restoring 1,000MW, and that it expected to bring the remaining units online by Wednesday.

By Tuesday, Ramokgopa said, there would be a significant reduction in load shedding, “going back to levels 4, 3, 2 and 1 and also periodically not having load shedding, starting Wednesday.”

Eskom agreed, saying that its power station general managers and their teams were working to ensure that the remaining 3,200MW were returned to service by Wednesday evening. 

Challenge to Ramaphosa and Ramokgopa

Engineering News’ Terence Creamer asked during the media briefing, “What accountability does the minister intend to take for the extreme credibility crisis and embarrassment this has now caused for the President and government as a whole?” 

Ramokgopa responded: “Yes the President is correct, so I really don’t understand what is meant by embarrassment — [it’s] a coincidence that immediately after that [Sona] delivery, then the risk materialises.”

In response to journalists querying whether Eskom’s escalation of load shedding soon after the Sona was politically motivated, Bheki Nxumalo, the group executive for generation at Eskom, said he was glad he had the opportunity to clarify this.

Nxumalo said that at 6.30pm on Thursday, maintenance staff detected a risk at Unit 3 at Medupi — which provides 800MW — and decided to shut it down to ensure the safety of employees.

“That is independent of what was happening with the statement the President was making; even the minister was not aware of what was happening [at the time],” Nxumalo said.

Soon after this, a second unit at Medupi tripped, causing Eskom to lose 1,600MW of power in six hours at one of its biggest stations, and escalating load shedding.

‘See for yourself’

“The numbers are there … all you have to ask yourself is: are the number of hours my lights are on in a day the same or lower than the comparable period in the previous year? And the answer is in the affirmative,” Ramokgopa said. 

He said the power situation would improve because three units from Kusile Power Station had come back online, and the Treasury had made money available to Eskom. In addition, a significant proportion of units on planned maintenance were expected to come back online towards the end of March, as well as Unit 4 from Medupi and Unit 6 from Kusile.

“The end of load shedding is within reach,” said Ramokgopa. “So don’t believe me, don’t believe the President, just do your own analysis.”

Renewables not performing

Ramokgopa said Eskom had not been receiving power from solar PV and wind generators because of climatic conditions, which had also contributed to escalated load shedding. 

“This must not subtract from the fact that we must continue on this path of greening, but it’s just a common appreciation that renewables thrive on the redundancy of baseload, and that’s why baseload is key to ensure that we are able to protect the performance of the economy, to ensure that we don’t interrupt life going into the future,” Ramokgopa said.

But energy expert and engineer Chris Yelland told Daily Maverick, “What is needed to complement the variability of wind and solar PV is not nuclear or coal-fired ‘baseload’ power, nor unreliable, unpredictable and intermittent coal-fired power.

“What is needed is flexible generation that can be ramped up and down quickly on command from the system operator. This takes the form of battery energy storage, pumped energy storage and/or gas-to-power operating as peaking and balancing plant, (ie, operating at low capacity factor, and low gas usage), not as mid-merit or ‘baseload’ capacity.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Free advice to Ramokgoba, Frikkie, Cele, Pandor, and the other clowns from the ANC circus: don’t move your lips. When Trump starts to make sense relative to the drivel uttered by your lot, then all hope is lost.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    ‘Outperformed the curve’ is bullshit PR-speak for ‘we don’t have a clue about what will happen next, but everything is under control’.
    Trying to turn this exacerbated horror of enforced power outages into a good news story is pure drivel and will hopefully be reflected in the voting booths in the near future.
    Interference aside, of course, but I guess the ANC will be ahead of that curve too.

  • Denise Smit says:

    He used the word “undermine” about 100 times in his supposedly positive presentation on Eskom and the future. Wonder why ?

  • andrew farrer says:

    . . . until the open cycle gas turbines currently being run 24/7 start breaking down, or the diesel/ money runs out (my guess, straight after the election).

  • Con Tester says:

    The term “load shedding” occurs 15 times in this article, plus once in its title. We would stop dignifying this deplorable mealymouthed piece of euphemistic ANC propaganda that is designed to soft-pedal what’s really going on. Like eNCA has done for a while now, we should speak instead only of “rolling power blackouts” because “load shedding” plays into the ANC’s faux narrative of success by sugarcoating its longstanding abysmal failures in getting the basics right.

    Besides, “Stage 3,” “Stage 5,” “Stage 6,” “boiler tube leaks,” “sabotage,” et al., whichever way you slice it, denials notwithstanding, it all adds up to an utterly useless government by the ANC, and an electricity minister who couldn’t organise maggots for a carcass. But, boy, can he talk up a gusty storm of vacuous prolixity!

  • Clifton Coetzee says:

    When you cut through all the semantics, doublespeak and obfuscation, the message is clear: Get Used To Loadshedding, because it’s not going to improve under the ANC Administration.

  • Andre Reinecke says:

    Ramokgopa calls it a “calculated risk”, then in other news Mbalula says it was “sabotage”, but we all know it is due to incompetence and corruption.

  • PJ T says:

    Of course we are getting near to the end of loadshedding – we are getting near to Eskom not having any customers as businesses and people put in solar with batteries, and 24/7 wave energy for the coast gets closer.

  • Mike Newton says:

    I beg to differ with Chris Yelland. Nuclear power is the only carbon free power source that is available 24/7. It is also one of the safest. The fossil fuel lobby has succeeded in demonising nuclear power to such an extent that it has become prohibitively expensive.

    • Johan Buys says:

      Mike : nuclear would be great if it delivered any of its promises.

      Projects are decades-late and 300% of budget. Go look up the horror of the most recent major nuclear project commissioned nuclear project – in the US.

      Units 1 and 2 ballooned from $660m budget to $8.9 billion.

      The most recent units 3 and 4 bankrupted Westinghouse and ballooned by $22 billion. That is R450 billion over budget on only 2GW. It will never recover its costs, never mind decommissioning. That is at US interest rates – the same project here would be 15y late and two trillion over budget.

      • Gavin Hillyard says:

        Yeah, and pigs can fly

      • Gavin Hillyard says:

        Nuclear does come with big up-front costs. But it is the safest, cleanest method of generating CONTINUOUS power. The cost to the country of continued rolling power black-outs should surely also be factored in to the equation? It seems to me that the long-term solution for RSA is a blend of nuclear, solar, wind and possibly tide electricity generation. Coal generation should be phased out over the next decade I feel. Water heating consumes a huge amount of power. If every household had a solar water heating, demand would be considerably lower.

  • Philip Machanick says:

    There will definitely be no loadshedding if no electricity is generated.

  • Elmarie Dennis says:

    Maybe they mean karpowership will soon bring loadshedding to an end. I pray that all evil plans will not succeed. May the servant leadership parties triumph. Bless our beautiful country.

  • Marius Boraine says:

    Load shedding was diminished towards the end of 2023 due to hundreds of millions being spent on diesel to power the turbines.

    How do you know the ANC is lying? Their lips move.

  • Mkulu Zulu says:

    The Honourable Electricity Minister is being dishonorable and needs a frontal lobotomy to correct his confused thinking.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Who could possibly believe this BS?

  • malcolmwilson.nc says:

    Do you even believe these idiots!

  • Ken Barker says:

    What’s involved with replacing boiler tubes. Does the furnace have to cool down? How many tubes would a 600 MW boiler have? Would all the tubes be replaced or just the ones that have burnt through? What would be the normal life of a set of boiler tubes?

    • Joe Irwin says:

      Excellent questions, but don’t expect an answer. For instance if 2 or 3 boiler tubes fail and are repaired, you can bet your last rand, that the others will start leaking shortly after the operation is restarted

    • Dr Know says:

      Answering your questions – /about 2 days before you can put people in a chunk of metal that was running 700 degrees just a few hours before/then install skyclimbers for inspection/find the leak and the many others caused by the first leak cutting other tubes while you wait for permission to shut down/cut out if you can reach it, cut your way in and weld your way out if it is a burner mouth or sootblower aperture corner/then inspect, replace, fit weld, inspect/ pressure test/replace insulation/spend another 2 days and half a million bucks in fuel oil to get the thing hot enough to run again/boiler tubes have a 40 to 50 year life if not overheated by sleepy operators or scoured thin by high ash from crappy coal or torn apart from clinkers due to crappy coal. Think that covers it . . .

      • Ken Barker says:

        Many Thanks. Asan old oil field hand it is just interesting to try any quantify the issue. Given your info it would seem statistically unlikely to have ten units go down in 48 hours particularly given the life expectancy of the tubes. And the repair time is significant.

    • Dr Know says:

      Oh and number of furnace tubes alone is around 2000, welded together at the ribs and about 90m long each. Not counting superheater, reheater and economiser tubes which would probably double the number.

  • Rae Earl says:

    The Medupi and Kusile plants are brand new in terms of their operating hours since coming on-line. So, what’s the excuse? I know with absolute certainty that if I buy a new car tomorrow it will give me many thousands of kilometres over 5 or 6 years without any major problems. I also know that if something major broke, it would be replace on the turn. Did they use second hand parts to build Medupi and Kusile or are they simply so stupid they don’t know how to run them correctly without breaking things?

    • Con Tester says:

      They used too many second-hand people to design and engineer those plants (to which ignominious list one can add Ingula PSS), people who had a second hand, an open one, under the table, demanding that it be filled. That’s why those projects are (1) severely late, (2) severely over budget, and (3) severely failure-prone. It’s the usual mélange of ANC incompetence, greed, lethargy, and narcissism at bottom, of course.

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    Are these boiler tubes also parts installed by Hitachi under the auspices of the anc’s chancellor house?

  • This Is Us says:

    I also think loadsheding will end soon. Once the grid collapse, you can’t implement any form of loadsheding.

  • Thabang M says:

    Isn’t this what De Ruyter was saying about maintenance? That Eskom is an old horse. Why should we give this Minister of Darkness a benefit of doubt. He came with big promises and media blitz. Eskom has humbled him. Now he’s playing with words like “worst of loadshedding is behind us” without giving commitments

  • Ella de Beer says:

    Nonsense! This is election play, Mark my words, very soon, the power will stay on, at what cost to the country?? And then, boom, once they won again, it will be back, probably worse. And to boot, “ju mal” promises grants from 350 to 6000 depending on your education. Ha ha ha.

    • Sipho Dlamini says:

      We shouldn’t be so cynical. There are a number of factors suggesting they are speaking the truth. Clearly the baseload is now installed, now they need to install enough buffer to allow for failures and downtime. Although they don’t seem to be expanding the generation capacity fast, people are reducing their consumption fast by installing a lot of rooftop solar. A lot of people I know are partially or completely off grid, load shedding doesn’t affect them. So we are closer than we think, as they are telling us.

      • Con Tester says:

        Right, so the powers-that-be are (probably) telling the truth about the end of rolling blackouts being near, not because they are dealing effectively with the actual problems (which, it’s worth noting, they themselves created in the first place), but rather they are right because people are making their own provisions such as rooftop solar to cover periods when the power is cut.

        Gosh, what a laughably disingenuous argument! It is a rare treat indeed for its intellectual vacuity.

        And all the more so in view of the fact that those self-same powers-that-be (1) first imposed a ridiculously low ceiling on private power generation capacity, a ceiling that was only recently lifted, (2) seriously mooted legislation that would allow the taxation of home power generation into virtual nullity, and (3) have put such inordinately onerous obstacles in the path of any sizeable private power generation initiatives as to be effectively prohibitive.

        The cynicism is all on their side, methinks.

  • Confucious Says says:

    I cannot believe that I have just read (actually I can) that the anc’s Sylvia Lucas has just said that load shedding isn’t the end of the world!!! WTAF!?!?!?!?! Clearly there’s no electricity in her brain either!

  • The real Ellon Must says:

    “are the number of hours my lights are on in a day the same or lower than the comparable period in the previous year?” My lights are not on in the day. And not on at night either, because we are “temporarily without power due to planed not supplying you with power” intervals.

  • Rae Earl says:

    When you make bad decisions and screw everything up it gets referred to as “calculated risk”. What utter crap. These people have no idea how to maintain and run either our power stations or the country. Don’t treat us like imbeciles Ramakgopa. And Ramaphosa is now shouting that his administration is enabling solar heating to help remedy the situation. Every time this man opens his mouth these days he spews utter garbage. His administration had nothing to do solar power which his inept henchman Mantashe fought against it tooth and nail. Private businesses and households are responsible for solar and other green sources of energy. Ramaphosa, like Ramakgopa, treats us like idiots and this is beginning to anger people at all levels.

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