Major lifeline thrown to Eskom

 ·24 Nov 2022

The minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, says that his department has found 50 million litres of diesel for the national power utility Eskom from state-owned PetroSA.

Responding to questions in a National Assembly plenary, Gordhan said that over this week, his department has been liaising between Eskom and PetroSA to find a way – within the limited resources the power utility currently has – to make diesel immediately available to Eskom.

“By the evening and this morning, 50 million litres of diesel have been found, have been provided by PetroSA. Some of those litres travel by pipeline, some by truck.”

Diesel is needed to fuel Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines, used to produce electricity during peak periods of demand across the nation. The turbines can cover around two stages of load shedding.

Despite being designed solely for peaks where the regular coal-powered stations cannot meet demand, South Africa has become dependent on its diesel-fueled systems to ward off higher levels of load shedding.

Gordhan has also been in conversation with Finance Minster Enoch Godongwana to discuss a more permanent solution to the issue of low diesel reserves.

“We have taken steps to find funding. Firstly, as a matter of urgency, the Minister of Finance and I talked on Sunday evening about where money could be found. Secondly, there was a meeting between my delegation and the Minister of Finance’s delegation about the challenges Eskom faced,” he said.

Gordhan said that earlier this year, a number of plans were developed to ensure generation is more stable earlier – but clearly, not enough has been done.

Eskom has no more money to buy diesel. According to Eskom’s chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer, Eskom has spent more than R11.2 billion on diesel this year to the end of October.

Gordhan and PetroSA did not disclose the cost of the 50 million litres of diesel being sent to Eskom.

Professor Anton Eberhard, an energy expert, has warned that without diesel to fire the open cycle gas turbines, system failures are likely to increase.

The director of Power Futures Lab at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business said that without these turbines being operational – Eskom cannot respond to emergencies, increasing the risk of system collapse.

“At a time of intermittent and declining coal plant output, it increases the risk of more load-shedding and system failure,” he said.

Load shedding in South Africa has reached record lows, with ordinary South Africans bearing the brunt of it. This has slowed the country’s economic growth and put a stop to daily operations.

The outlook for the rest of the foreseeable future seems bleak, with the national utility’s best-case scenario in its 12-month outlook envisioning seven days of load shedding in the coming summer period, but only if it is able to spend billions of rands on diesel and keep breakdowns below 13,000MW.

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