Eskom summer power cuts?

South Africa has up to five years to go before its electricity supply crisis is over, and consumers may well face limited power cuts this summer, MPs heard on Tuesday.

Briefing a joint meeting of Parliament’s energy and public enterprises committees, Eskom acting chief executive Collin Matjila said it would be 2019 before plans the power utility had in place came together.

“We have put in place a comprehensive plan to accelerate the performance of our generation plants by attacking specifically the unplanned outages that are a result, among others, of deferred maintenance, as well as poor performance by the contractors who do the maintenance.”

Arresting the decline in performance of Eskom’s power plants would take three to five years.

“This will take some time. We are talking about a period of between three and five years… to turn around the fleet.”

Many of the utility’s power plants were very old, and required complete refurbishment.

“The programme is intended to arrest the current decline, to stabilise performance and to implement improvements that will see our energy availability factor going above 85 percent.”

The target for this was 2019.

“This coincides with the time by which we will have 9500MW from [both] Medupi and Kusile,” he said.

Medupi power station, in Limpopo, is set to fire up the first of its six generating units and start supplying power to the national grid on December 24 this year.

“We are confident we will be able to reach that target,” Matjila told the committee.

After this date, Eskom would “tweak” its systems and co-ordinate the plant’s output with the grid.

The power station would reach “commercial operation” in May or June next year, feeding in an extra 800MW of electricity.

“After that, we will move on to [the next unit] in December [next year], and the other units will follow at six-monthly [intervals] after that.”

Kusile, in Mpumalanga, is set to start delivering power from early in 2016.

Eskom executive Dan Marokane warned that consumers could face power cuts during the coming summer season.

“We have some unreliable supply that could impact on our ability to meet demand during this period.”

Eskom had taken steps to ensure that should this happen, “we will have managed load reduction in place”.

However, if this proved necessary, it would be limited to so-called stage-one reductions, which meant reducing load by not more than 1200MW.

“This is intended to ensure we protect the integrity of the grid. To do more than that puts an additional strain on our grid, and to recover from a reduction of load higher than 1200MW will take us a long time,” he said.

According to a document distributed by Eskom at the briefing, “if load is shed during summer it is likely to be from 6am until 10pm and as per published schedules”.

Speaking at the briefing, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown noted that Cabinet last week approved a package of measures to ensure the country’s energy security.

The package included a combination of tariff adjustments, cost containment by Eskom, and an equity injection, details of which would be released by the finance minister in October on the occasion of his medium-term budget policy statement.

Conceding that the completion of Medupi was more than three years overdue, she confirmed it would start generating electricity from December this year.

“It will be some time before South Africa’s energy shortages are a thing of the past. Until then, and even after that, we should all be aware of our shared responsibilities, ensuring not only sustainable energy supply, but also sustainable energy consumption,” she told the committee.

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Eskom summer power cuts?