Stage 6 load shedding has been confirmed from 16:00 to 22:00 on Tuesday evening.
This comes after Eskom lost 10 generating units overnight, Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter announced at a hastily arranged media briefing on Tuesday morning. Stage 6 has only been implemented once before, on 9 December 2019, he said.
“Three of the 10 generation units that had tripped during the night have been returned to service. This, however, is still insufficient to stave off the implementation of Stage 6 load shedding for this evening and tomorrow evening,” the utility said in a statement issued just after 14h00 on Tuesday.
“We currently have 3 218MW on planned maintenance, while another 17 621MW of capacity is unavailable due to breakdowns,” Eskom added.
“Unless the current unprotected strike comes to an end, it may even escalate further,” Jan Oberholzer, Eskom’s chief operating officer said during the briefing on Tuesday morning.
He said the power system was recovering well on Monday and Eskom still needs to understand what exactly happened during the night. He believes there is some damage to infrastructure, but with limited access to sites and reduced staff numbers who are working flat out to keep the lights on, this has not been quantified.
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With operations at several coal-fired power stations disrupted and running at reduced staff numbers due to the wildcat strike, Eskom was hoping to return 3 400 MW of capacity by 17h00, but that is at risk due to the labour protest.
The current situation follows Eskom’s move a week ago to declare a dispute after wage negotiations deadlocked. Eskom then applied for an expedited date at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for the next step in the legislated bargaining process, namely conciliation.
On Monday it was still awaiting a date, but De Ruyter disclosed that he met union bosses the previous day for negotiations that were set to continue later Monday.
He said the talks were “productive” and added that while the strike actions seemed to be co-ordinated, the union bosses said they cannot control the actions of the workers and don’t condone it.
He said energy regulator Nersa allowed less than 5.5% increase for all staff in its revenue allocation that informs electricity tariffs. Eskom’s last offer was up to 5.3%, while the National Union of Metalworkers refused to budge below 12%.
De Ruyter said if Eskom had to settle beyond what Nersa allowed, it would have to be funded from savings. It will be a challenge to do that while protecting the utility’s going concern status.
With Stage 6, South Africans faces at least six hours of darkness per day, Oberholzer said.
Understanding the loadshedding stages pic.twitter.com/loMq2e3oZ4
— Eskom Hld SOC Ltd (@Eskom_SA) June 28, 2022
At a briefing last Friday (24 June) he confirmed that eThekwini is still excluded from load shedding following the recent flood damage.
Eskom, at the time of Tuesday’s briefing, was forecasting a shortage of 1 400 MW for the evening peak even after including Stage 4 load shedding in its calculations.
It is already running its open-cycle gas turbines very hard and diesel levels are low. At the time of the briefing the tanks at Ankerlig near Cape Town were at 47% with limited volumes available in the country to replenish it. A vessel was only expected over the weekend.
According to group executive for generation, Rhulani Mathebula, the units lost overnight included three at Medupi, three at Tutuka, one each at Kriel, Kusile, Kendal and Duvha, which represents a massive 6 000 MW capacity loss.
Since then two have been returned to service and the technicians hope to get a further four plus a unit at Matla back in service for the evening peak. The utility is however facing a shortage of operators due to the strike.
Oberholzer stated that implementing Stage 6 load would be a “step change” for Eskom’s system operators and comes with huge complexity that make the task to keep the system stable much more challenging.
“We are appealing to our labour partners to put the people of South Africa first, to respect the law and refrain from unlawful action,” he said.