Load shedding crisis as Eskom breakdowns hit record levels

Power cuts escalated to Stage 4 on Tuesday.
The grid remains ‘fragile’ and ‘unpredictable’ and further deterioration could lead to higher stages of load shedding. Image: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

On Saturday it had already become apparent just how much trouble Eskom’s generating unit was in.

At that evening’s peak – during the Easter long weekend when electricity demand was more than 5 000 megawatts (MW) lower than it would’ve been on a weekday – the utility could only provide 27 633MW of capacity. And this included the use of 11 open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs). Renewables contributed just less than 1 500MW.

The writing was on the wall.

The utility was forced to implement Stage 2 load shedding abruptly on Sunday afternoon when breakdowns hit critical levels.

What it refers to as “unplanned breakdowns” totalled 17 018MW – what appeared to be a record high. Eskom executives on Tuesday morning confirmed that this was “not a new record for unavailable generation”.

Remember Stage 6 load shedding?

The previous worst publicly disclosed level was 16 700MW in May last year.

Before that, it was 15 921MW in January 2020, roughly a month after it was forced into unprecedented Stage 6 load shedding (where outages were likely around the 17 000MW level but were not disclosed at the time).

Added to the 17 000MW on Saturday was planned maintenance, which totalled 5 474MW.

Just a month ago, it had forecast that planned maintenance would total 6 249MW in the last week (higher than the 5 114MW forecast at the start of the year).

Maintenance

Eskom has constantly been rolling over maintenance that it has scheduled as it battles to keep generation from the coal fleet at adequate levels.

This deferral of maintenance has a knock-on effect: the coal plants become more unreliable, forcing it to run working units harder which, in turn, affects their reliability. Those maintenance ‘bills’ eventually come due, as we’re experiencing.

Of the 22 492MW offline (planned and unplanned), Koeberg Unit 2 (offline for refuelling and maintenance) accounts for 970MW. Practically all the rest (barring perhaps some capacity at the Ingula pumped storage scheme which has experienced some challenges due to high dam levels) is Eskom’s core coal fleet.

Read: Winter worries: Eskom defers Koeberg steam generator replacement to August 2023

Easily more than 20 000MW of coal generation capacity is offline (including Medupi Unit 4, which exploded in August last year and accounts for 720MW).

The utility has 38 000MW of total coal generation capacity, which means 53% was offline on Sunday.

The past week …

Over the past week, it has used an enormous amount of diesel as well as emergency measures such as interruptible load supply and virtual power supply (where it cuts power to large customers, primarily the aluminium smelters) just to keep the lights on. And that was in addition to load shedding from Monday evening until Friday at 05:00.

Evening peak
Mon Apr 11 Tues Apr 12 Wed Apr 13 Thurs Apr 14 Fri Apr 15 Sat Apr 16 Sun Apr 17 Mon Apr 18
Eskom capacity (MW) 29928 28637 27919 27519 27323 27633 26717 27836
OCGTs used 26 13 16 5 11 20 18
Renewables (MW) 1054 765 924 1581 1367 1448 619 716
Virtual power station (MW) 230 203 158 153
Interruptible load supply (MW) 897 1124
Load shedding (MW) 2082 2485 2056 1831 1818 1966
Total demand (MW) 32749 30878 29982 27373 24726 27109 28873 30401

Download table

Its available generation deteriorated throughout the last week and reached just 26 717 MW on Sunday evening.

Recent data from Eskom shows it is also reliant on between 540MW and 720MW of non-commercial generation from Kusile Unit 4 which is set to be fully commissioned in July. That unit has provided power at the peak since March 21 (until at least April 10, the date to which Eskom has disclosed detailed system capacity).

Read: Eskom scrutinising emergency power contracts as cuts ongoing

Eskom says “the power system continues to be fragile” and “unpredictable” and warned on Sunday that “any further deterioration in generation capacity may require higher stages of load shedding”. Load shedding was increased to Stage 4 on Tuesday morning due to Majuba Unit 5 and Tutuka Unit 4 tripping.

It is worth highlighting too that miners at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations remain on strike and the mines are therefore not operating.

Imagine the situation we’d be in with these large consumers of power running at full capacity.

Remember, peak winter demand is around 33 000MW (we reached 32 749MW at 18:10 last Monday and it’s not exactly freezing yet). Koeberg Unit 2 is scheduled to return to service in June which will provide some headroom (over 900MW).

Until then, brace yourselves.

COMMENTS   3

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So, what is Eskom? What is its purpose? Considering the fact that Eskom employs 45 000 people at an average salary of R130 per hour, and that those employees produce less than 50% of the installed capacity, it is clear that Eskom is an employment agency with monopoly powers to bribe Tripartite Alliance members with a glorified social grant. When someone earns money without producing anything, we cannot call it a salary. It is a social grant.

When they run at 50% of capacity, the cost of those employees, per unit of energy generated, actually doubles. Eskom, like the rest of SOEs and most municipalities, is an excuse to bribe ANC voters and cadres with inflated salaries. These government monopolies don’t serve consumers, but they extort those consumers to pay exorbitant salaries in ANC jobs-for-votes projects. They provide cadres with opportunities to loot taxpayers. SOEs execute the extractive and exploitative BEE project that transfers purchasing power from consumers to the politically connected elite. The entire public sector wage bill and the BEE project, are, in effect, only extensions of the social grant system.

We are a mining nation, but due to the prohibitive Mining Charter, we don’t exploit the mineral wealth of the nation. The socialist ANC policies enable SOEs to mine the assets of consumers. The ANC mines property owners. SOEs are vehicles of extortion that siphon off the value of private property to finance loaded tenders to benefit BEE beneficiaries and cadres. Mining for minerals is a complex and expensive process. For the ANC to mine citizens, is simple and cheap. They don’t have to dig shafts and build tunnels. They simply pass a law that opens up the tunnels to extractive and exploitative looting opportunities.

We are the product, the source of wealth. Don’t expect service delivery from a socialist government. You yourself are the commodity or product, to be exploited. Look at your net worth and ask yourself “where did my spending power go?” Then take a look at the size of the BEE looting spree, the effect of state capture and corruption, the public sector wage bill, and the amount of savings in the GEPF, and things will become clear.

Proudly brought to you by the ANC, that fount of wisdom, foresight, non-racialism, prosperity and long term planning. It seems most South Africans are still 100% happy with the way the ANC is running the country, so who are we to complain. I just want to stop paying tax to subsidise this circus, in the very near future. Let’s see how things go once that happens.

The self reinforcing death spiral…

“…where it cuts power to large customers, primarily the aluminium smelters…”

Look no further as to why we are shedding 100,000 jobs a month – when we choose to cut power to private sector employers, to provide power to an ever expanding unemployed electorate.

End of comments.

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