Public enterprise minister, Pravin Gordhan, has outlined some of the issues which has led to Eskom instituting load shedding over the past week, on a daily basis.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (6 December), Gordhan said that a combination of factors – both operational and technical – had effectively snowballed to the current situation.
These factors include:
- Planned power outages alongside breakdowns in the system meant that the power utility had not been able to meet national electricity demands;
- Another major issue has to do with the maintenance of the current system. This includes a failure to set aside enough money for repairs, possible sabotage and poor quality maintenance;
- The new Kusile and Medupi power stations are underperforming due to sub-standard work by the original equipment manufacturers;
- A decline in maintenance expenditure and the availability of parts.
“Part of the diagnostic problem is also the supply and distribution of coal,” the minister said.
“(Eskom) became ‘famous’ for signing midnight contracts to obtain coal. Literally within a couple of hours a contract would be crafted.
“Now we are told it takes one year to contract – from one night to one year. This shows that there is something wrong in this kingdom,” Gordhan said.
“With this in mind, we are given the assurance that by the end of December we will move from 14-20 day coal stocks to at least 33 day of stock at each of the power stations.
“This will also improve further in the first quarter of 2019.”
Gordhan said that while he was unable to give assurances, the goal is to try and cut down on stage 2 load shedding within the next week. “Our objective is that we don’t want load shedding level 2 by next week,” he said.
“This is the kind of (load shedding) that most irritates the citizens of this country and it is perfectly understandable – we need to alleviate this.”
Gordhan said that from 15 December to 15 January there should be a lower demand for power because of the shutdown by industry over the festive period, “and there should be no load shedding during this period”.
All senior managers have been asked to cancel their leave and have been assigned to power stations, the minister said.
“When we come back to work in mid-January up until the end of March we ideally want to tell the public that there will be no level 2 load shedding,” Gordhan said.
Instead, Gordhan said that Eskom may introduce a greatly reduced ‘quarter level’ load shedding during this period.
He also pledged that Eskom would be better at communicating load shedding schedules and which areas will be impacted.
Eskom currently has 47,000MW of installed capacity. Gordhan said that the state company was due to take 7,500MW offline for repairs.
“Instead what we have had in addition to the 7,500Mw is somewhere between 9,000MW – 11,000MW of ‘breakdowns’.
“As a result, if you add another 2,500MW of what is called the ‘reserve margin’ (the safety margin that must be kept at all times for the system to work), then we are unable to meet the current demand of about 29,000MW.
“We are falling about 2,000 – 2,500MW less than that number, which is the typical summer demand,” Gordhan said.
“We have potential for 47,000MW but in reality we can only supply 26,000 – 27,000MW.”
At the beginning of December Eskom announced that it would again resort to daily load-shedding because of a shortage of power grid capacity.
Load shedding is a measure of last resort to prevent the collapse of the power system country-wide. When there is insufficient power station capacity to supply the demand (load) from all the customers, the electricity system becomes unbalanced, which can cause it to trip out country-wide (a blackout).
By switching off parts of the network in a planned and controlled manner, the system remains stable throughout the day, and the impact is spread over a wider base of customers.
The power utility is currently implementing Stage 2 load shedding which calls for 2,000MW to rotationally be shed and curtailed nationally for the given period.
Gordhan noted that by not having enough power, contracts the economy, which StatsSA showed this week, climbed out of a recession – growing 2.2% in the three months through September compared with a revised 0.4% contraction in the prior quarter.