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Eskom’s ‘credible’ plan to keep the lights on

What to expect in the summer months and beyond.
Juggling act: Eskom is working to avert load shedding while proceeding with its planned maintenance shutdowns and addressing its high emission levels. Image: Moneyweb

Embattled power utility Eskom managed to keep the lights on in winter and aims to continue averting load shedding, while balancing the need to increase maintenance to protect against the risk of unreliable plant performance. 

Read: Eskom faces emissions violations, could shut plants

Earlier this year the country experienced weeks of extended outages, with 4 000 megawatts (MW) of electricity wiped from the grid at a time. The most obvious impact of this was a 3.1% plunge in GDP in the first quarter.

At a briefing on the state of its operations on Wednesday, Eskom chief operations officer Jan Oberholzer told journalists that after implementing the winter plan, Eskom managed to stave off power cuts for 164 days.

“We have to be fair as well – the demand was lower for most of winter due to warmer weather and the economic climate,” said Oberholzer.

The idea is that Eskom will be able to maintain the momentum as part of its summer plan over the next seven months. However, Oberholzer said the power system remains “tight and vulnerable” as temperatures rise, which impacts some power stations such as Matimba in Limpopo.

A snapshot of the generation side of the utility shows that it is still grappling with unpredictable and unreliable plants. Oberholzer said that while Eskom has done a lot of maintenance in the year to date, it experienced 249 system trips, which is beyond the 159 target.

Partial load losses

Oberholzer said partial load losses – power stations not operating at capacity – are one of Eskom’s biggest issues and account for almost half of the outages.

“That’s when you have a vehicle that says you can do 120, but when you put your foot down you only get 80 out of it,” he said.

The Kendal, Arnot, Tutuka, Medupi and Kriel power stations accounted for about 62% of all partial load losses so far this year.

But Eskom has made progress in returning its coal stockpiles to healthy levels. In November last year, ten of its 15 power stations had stockpiles below the company’s accepted minimum of 20 days, with five having stockpiles of less than ten days.

As at September 3, all power stations except for Kriel had stockpiles above the grid code. Oberholzer said that while Eskom has the volumes, it now has to deal with the quality of the coal.

There has been an improvement in plant performance, which has increased from 67% at the beginning of the year to 70.4%.

“Our objective over summer is to continue to avoid load shedding, continue our plant performance and continue our maintenance,” said Eskom chair and acting CEO Jabu Mabuza.

Summer scenarios

Source: Eskom presentation

Operationally, according to energy expert Chris Yelland, Eskom has presented a credible plan that does not oversell what can be achieved. 

“He [Oberholzer] did make it clear what could be achieved and that it is going to require hard work [and] overtime, and that gives me a measure of satisfaction that they have a grasp of the issues,” said Yelland. 

However, he pointed out that the utility’s power plants are getting old and this means they will require more work and money, not only to keep them online but to obtain environmental compliance in terms of their emissions.

“First of all, they don’t have the money and second of all it is hardly worth it because it takes a long time to do this work and by that time the power stations could be decommissioned anyway.”


Oberholzer said that in Eskom’s nine-point turnaround plan, the focus had moved from ‘prepare for the rain’ to reducing emissions, particularly at seven of the 87 generation units where the levels are high. 

“It is important to understand that if we don’t fix this and reduce the risk of emissions, there is a risk that we will have to shut down some of the units – that is a risk of 4 500 megawatts,” he said. 

“It’s a significant challenge for us.”

Mabuza said that solving the emission problems instantly would cost R300 billion, money the cash-strapped utility – which currently has debt of R440 billion – doesn’t have.

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My credible plan for Eskom and their load shedding:I bought 3 USB’s and changed all my light bulbs to LED. All for R40,000. I have had enough of their incompetence. They can bring it on.

I assume you meant to say UPS’s?

Sorry I meant UPS i.e. the battery packs.

Well done Jnrb!

Had UPS + battery bank myself, running at home-office since 2010. Never looked back….load-shedding causes me little stress. I can continue for 5-6hrs at least, before silent-type inverter generator is employed.

UPS is also an equipment life-saver during severe lightning strikes in summer. (Would’ve lost a desktop, scanner, LED TV a multiple of times over the past years, if it wasn’t for UPS.)

Can expand with PV-solar later on. Heat-pump takes care of hot-water geyser…draws power equivalent of a small vacuum cleaner.

My PV battery backup system is also standing at the ready.
All my essentials can already continue working without Eskom.

The comment on emissions is the most gob smacking comment ever. The total contribution of harmful gasses emitted by Eskom on a global stage is less than .001%. This is Africa we dont need Carbon Tax, 0 emissions from our coal power stations. If that annoys the tree huggers then they are welcome to give us the 300 billion. Just as a point of perspective. The volcano that erupted a few years ago in Iceland put our more noxious gasses than the entire planet has generated through all industry since the start of mankind. I am not suggesting not being environmentally conscious but get some perspective, South Africa contributes a minuscule amount to global pollution and we certainly do not need to retrofit our power stations because the EU has a conscious for buggering up the Northern Hemisphere and the US capital system has found a way to make billions out of a fear.

The issue is about SO2 and NOx emitted by Eskom power stations at levels that are way above the pretty lax limits allowed in SA. This is the stuff that smell like rotten egg and at the very least causes respiratory problems.

Why dont you tell that to the people that live near those power stations and have to breathe that muck every day. And what is it with the volcanoes? Volcanoes experience major eruptions how often? Coal-fired power stations are pumping out CO2 and other noxious substances 24/7/365 in practically every country on the planet. The bottom line is our planet is in serious trouble due to burning of fossil fuels — on multiple levels — and we all need to get on board with moving away from this destructive and reckless practice and towards less harmful energy generating technology, which now also happens to be even cheaper.

CO2 is not a noxious gas! I suggest you do some of your own research. Try google: Dr Tim Ball Defeats Michael Mann’s Climate Lawsuit!
The whole climate change due to humans is a crock…propagated by charlatans whose paychecks most likely depend on CO2 taxation.

@Kevjones ….tend to agree

There are more volcanic fissures on the ocean floor than 60 years ago. Climate scientists seem to ignore this

Greenland approx 1000 years ago had very warm weather, 1 degree warmer than in todays pattern

Google has pages where glaciers are growing in South America

Not sure who to believe but I do think politicians are looking at a chance to tax all more

Carbon taxes, worldwide, do absolutely nothing to change toxic emissions, whether natural or synthetic. They just swell government coffers, but do not get used constructively for any pollution reductions.

Shhhh Kev. The governments around the globe depend on such emissions tax. Damn, you can spoil their party!

@ Kev, this is surely the most effing clueless comment on this issue. In SA alone hundreds, if not ta few thousand persons are dying PREMATURELY because of pollution through coal fired power stations. The WHO estimates globally its something like 10 million because of all kind of airpollution. The percentage that Eskom contributes to global pollution is of little help to them. It is not only SO2, NO, but also particulate matter, soot and the rest.
There is indeed no need to retrofit the aging Eskom power stations with expensive methods to clean the air. It is too little, too late. Officially ALL power stations should have FGD, flue gas desulphurisation. And particulate filtering should also be compulsory. Average age of col fired power stations is 36 years, some are approaching 60. They must be decommissioned ASAP
Renewables have become cheaper than coal. In the latest press briefing Jabu Mabuza states that Eskom produces coal fired power at R 112 cts/kWh. Most kinds of new renewable plants are now producing at less than R 1/kWh. The right combination of 70-80% renewables (wind, PV solar, CSP+TS, hydro) plus a bit of natural gas and nuclear together with a smart grid and smart meters at the premises of end users CAN provide a stable and reliable grid.

Absolutely agree … wonderful if you don’t live anywhere in the Vaal Triangle or other areas like these…

Oh, a large part of my reply to Kev has disappeared.
A 2016 CSIR report states that we easily should be able to do without coal fired power stations by 2040. 70% from renewables and the rest from natural gas and nuclear. And would save SA R 330 Billion doing it.
And we will use 60% less water, and produce 70 to 80% less CO2. And pay 15-20% less per kWh.

And feel free to read my comment on

There was allot of speculation/conspiracy theories about the load shedding just before the elections… was implemented to weaken CR… was implemented to strengthen him. However after the “amazed” man opened his mouth we haven’t had load shedding since. Just shows….CR you don’t have to do anything about the problems in SA, just acknowledge them and take responsibility.

CR “amazed”? *lol* No, he is “shocked” at everything.

Currently Dear Cyril is “surprised” at the protests against abuse against women – but didn’t apologise for the heavy handed thuggish SAPS teargassing schoolgirls.

I would have thought the coal quality would have been sorted by now. When you feed poor quality coal into Boilers not only are you damaging tubes and other internal surfaces besides a huge loss in BTU energy which means less steam to drive turbines which generate less electricity.

Even once we get the new plants fully on line we will be short as the older plants produce less and will be forced to shut down as too costly to keep on line and Eskom does not have the money.

Need to accelerate Solar and Wind although not the Total solution.

Getting Investor’s to buy old existing station might help Eskom debt but not solve our shortages.

We need new investors to set up new small plants, fire imported gas.

Look at Oil refineries which use vast amount of power to get Government as Partners to build infrastructure for own consumption as well as sell to the grid.

Why can we not make Solar panels, Lithium batteries in SA. Get investments and set up in our Townships to manufacture. Installation team to install in our homes and generate enough back onto the grid. The cost should be affordable for most people and help SA.

Retired Refiner.

Wally Stowe

What pity that the Department of Energy won’t employ you as a consultant.

Hi Beachcomber, I agree no chance but I am too white and now Ace the Asbestos man shouting his mouth off that we are foreigners. Well tell me where I come from and deport me with the Tax I paid to our country over 50 years. Happy to go Ace just send me somewhere that does not have Eskom.


Bokfrog, Correction the stuff that smells like rotten eggs is H2S Hydrogen Sulphide. It is a killer. A few sniffs kills your sense of smell and you think it is no longer around even in open spaces. A few more breaths and you are dead.

The other thing that has a rotten smell is LPG that you have in your Gas bottle. LPG has no smell so the Refineries add Mercaptons. If you have a leak with no smell from your bottle or stove it will spread and blow you and your roof off.


End of comments.





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