Power utility Eskom is struggling to keep up with the maintenance of its ailing power stations – and with winter here, and meddling from politicians, South Africa is on course for more outages than ever before.
This is according to energy expert, Chris Yellend, who told the City Press that Eskom’s plan to decommission six units at coal-powered plants in the coming months could potentially push load shedding to stage 4 or stage 5.
The country’s power stations have already experienced more unplanned downtime in 2021 – averaging 24.3% of the fleet offline, versus 20.9% in 2020.
The key issue behind the power failures is maintenance, with Eskom unable to keep up with the repairs of unplanned breakdowns while also conducting planned maintenance.
Over the months, Eskom’s load shedding alerts have depicted a ‘domino effect’ of breakdowns, with one unit failing after the other – and when some return to service, others immediately fail.
The power utility has warned that the national grid will come under severe pressure during the winter months, as electricity demand increases as temperatures drop. Its schedules are also being interrupted by politicians, with Friday’s (4 June) pause in load shedding a direct result of political interference.
The power utility warned officials in 2020 that its maintenance schedules need to be supported – not hampered – bythe government, or else regular load shedding at stage 8 would be a reality in 2021.
On Saturday, the group said that its power constraints will continue for the foreseeable future.
What does stage 4 load shedding mean?
In December 2019, Eskom and municipalities in South Africa updated their load shedding schedules to go up to stage 8, after the country was forced into stage 6 load shedding.
Stage 4 load shedding removes 4,000MW of power from the grid, leaving homes and businesses without power for longer. Stage 5 removes 5,000MW, stage 6 removes 6,000MW, etc.
According to Eskom, stage 4 doubles the frequency of stage 2 outages, which means you will be scheduled for load shedding 12 times over a four day period for 2 hours at a time – or 12 times over an eight day period for 4 hours at a time, in areas where 4 hours blocks are used.
During stage 8 load shedding, consumers would be without power for 48 hours over four days – or half the day would typically be in darkness.
Aside from the impact on citizens, the extended load shedding also has dire consequences for the economy. Yellend previously calculated that the South African economy effectively loses out on R1 billion worth of productivity per stage of load shedding, per day – at stage 4, that would be R4 billion lost every day.
Government says it is moving urgently to resolve South Africa’s energy crisis – but two major projects have already hit stumbling blocks and claims of interference. A contract to supply additional power to the grid using Turkish power ships is facing accusations of tender-rigging and corruption.
Meanwhile, energy minister Gwede Mantashe’s decision to limit individuals and private companies to generating only 10MW of power themselves is also creating unnecessary politically-driven bottlenecks in stabilising power supply.
Independent analysts have flagged Mantashe as the main stumbling block in South Africa’s energy reform, and say the minister should be removed from the portfolio.