Ramokgopa explains why we hit Stage 6 and sticks to Ramaphosa’s ‘end of load shedding’ claim
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”.
Stage 5 loadshedding will be implemented from 12:00 midday until further notice pic.twitter.com/vPSMJP4Yu1
— Eskom Hld SOC Ltd (@Eskom_SA) February 11, 2024
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