South Africans should brace themselves for a possibility of up to 26 days of load shedding this winter if Eskom’s power supply capacity is hampered by faults and breakdowns.
Eskom executives did their best to paint a hopeful picture of the entity’s attempts to improve its maintenance at its power stations in order to keep supply on path with demand. But there are worries.
The power utility announced over the weekend that load shedding would be extended until Wednesday as more capacity was lost at a number of its power stations. Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said it was unclear at the moment how long load shedding would last.
“At this point I cannot make commitments. The system has improved in the past 24 hours. We will make a call and will communicate by tomorrow (Wednesday). Load shedding will remain at level 2 tomorrow (on Wednesday) … that is where the system is,” Oberholzer said.
The country has experienced 44 days of load shedding since April last year. This was a slight reduction compared to 2019.
Eskom’s group executive on transmissions said the scenario for winter was that the country could experience up to 26 days of load shedding if capacity was lost and there was a need for R2.7 billion in diesel spending to meet capacity.
This was the worst case, but if capacity was stable then the number of load shedding days would decrease to possibly two or none.
Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter said that at the beginning of lockdown last year the focus was on “small gradual” maintenance, but then the focus moved to reliability maintenance.
This is the power utility’s biggest problem and Oberholzer said if the targets for fixing reliability maintenance go ahead as planned then the stress on load shedding could be decreased by September. Eskom plans to target the end of April as the competition of the first phase of reliability maintenance – 11 batches of units are expected back at this time.
The second phase of the reliability maintenance targets September as an end date. De Ruyter emphasised that once those 11 units were brought back then it will be a changing step with regards to load shedding but the risk remained.
“The unreliability of the ageing fleet, with an uncertainty of about 6 000MW of capacity at any given time, will remain until the reliability maintenance programme is able to address the historical maintenance backlog. The power system remains vulnerable and volatile with the risk of load shedding significantly reduced after the completion of the reliability maintenance by September.
“Recovering the operational performance is our top priority and we will not compromise on reliability maintenance and mid-life refurbishment,” Oberholzer said.
De Ruyter had said when he was appointed that the target of dealing with load shedding would be about 18 months. He said that was still the target, especially with reliability maintenance on the cards. He reiterated that the issue with the power utility was not just maintenance but generating additional capacity.
“What we need is additional generation capacity. Maintenance alone will not solve South Africa’s load shedding problems,” De Ruyter said.
He said coal stock levels were continuing to improve and that stock stood at 52 days at the end of February.
He also spoke of capacity supply concerns raised by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation Address that the country will continue to have a shortfall of electricity supply during the next five years.
The shortfall could be at an estimated 4 000MW of electricity. Some of the interventions proposed by the government include proposals for an additional supply of electricity in the form of wind and solar energy which could see 2 600MW added to the grid.