Researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have warned that South Africa faces a growing energy crisis, as ongoing load shedding problems risk being exacerbated by rising international diesel costs.
In a presentation to parliament on Tuesday (15 March), the CSIR noted that 2021 was the worst year on record for load shedding with 1,169 hours of outages and 2,521 GWh of energy shed. It added that 2022 is already off to a poor start with 261 hours of outages to date and 554 GWh of energy shed.
One of the levers that Eskom has to keep its systems online is Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs) which rely on diesel supplies to operate.
Data from the CSIR shows that increased usage of diesel-fired peakers cost the South African power system an additional R10.8 billion in 2021 alone. Considering Eskom’s operating costs of R196 billion in 2021, these additional costs equate to a 7.5% increase in operating expenditure.
Global diesel prices have now skyrocketed since the start of the year and the power utility risks paying substantially more to keep the lights on, the CSIR said.
It noted that at R15/litre for diesel the fuel cost is approximately R4.50/kWh. At R20/litre the cost will now be closer to R6/kWh.
Based on 2021’s data and the current diesel prices, South Africa faces additional costs of R15 billion, the CSIR said. However, it noted that Eskom was currently using four times more diesel for peakers due to the constrained power system.
Addressing media on Wednesday morning (9 March), chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said that Eskom was currently using nine million litres of diesel a day to keep its systems running.
Should the country run out of diesel reserves due to funding or the Russia and Ukraine invasion, then a worst-case scenario could see an additional six stages of load shedding introduced, he said.
Oberholzer clarified that additional stages would be added to whatever load shedding had already been introduced. However, he noted that this partly informed Eskom’s decision to introduce stage 4 load shedding on Wednesday so that the country does not reach this scenario.
“For us burning diesel and having a financial bloody nose is better than putting the country at a higher load shedding level.”
The chief operating officer added that Eskom was still evaluating how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will impact its operations in the coming months.
Eskom’s current load shedding schedules run up to stage 8, which allows for 8,000MW to be pulled off the grid, resulting in 12 hours of the day being spent in darkness – though this varies according to the region and municipal schedule.
An additional six stages on current load shedding levels would point to a hypothetical stage 10 load shedding, which is uncharted territory.