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What Eskom is not telling us …

The situation, particularly in its coal fleet, is worse than we think.
Eskom is facing a shortage of electricity capacity and its back-up reserves are working full-time to keep the country from plunging into darkness. Picture: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

We now know that the dramatic and chaotic escalation of load shedding on Saturday – from Stage 2 to Stage 3 and then Stage 4 within hours – was caused by the loss of imports of 1 100 megawatts (MW) of power from Mozambique. Tropical cyclone Idai damaged the transmission lines that carry power to South Africa from Cahora Bassa. Eskom has to maintain an operating reserve of 2 000MW at all times, hence the need from Saturday to curtail load through load shedding (which is, effectively, managed blackouts).

The current underlying problem in Eskom’s generating unit, though, is worse than simply what happened in Mozambique on Saturday. On Friday, it announced that load shedding would continue until Sunday. City Press/Rapport cites acting head of generation Andrew Etzinger as saying that two further units at its power stations “became inoperative” on Friday night. Whether this caused the announcement, we will never know.

Along with the announcement on Friday came the ‘forecast’ that Stage 2 load shedding would continue until “the middle” of this week. This is unprecedented. And the only reason that this forecast was/is “only” until Wednesday is because a de facto long weekend starts on Thursday! With imports off the table for days (if not weeks), expect the forecast to deteriorate.

Pumped storage as base-load

What Eskom hasn’t said explicitly is that it relied (heavily) on its pumped storage schemes to keep the lights on during Saturday. These schemes – Drakensberg, Ingula and Palmiet – together (nominally) produce 2 724MW. They are not intended to produce base-load power for the simple reason that they are net users of electricity!

In other words, they use more power than they produce.

The schemes are used to supply electricity during peak periods, with water being pumped back up during off-peak periods, i.e. overnight.

The details are generally couched in opaque references to “water reserves”, but on Saturday night Eskom for the first time stated that Stage 2 load shedding would continue through the night “in an effort to build up necessary water reserves in the pump storage scheme”.

Presumably it is referring to at least both Drakensberg and the new Ingula power station, which together can generate 2 300MW. The decision to continue with load shedding through the night was another unprecedented one (it has never before continued beyond 11pm) and points to the utility once again using the pumped storage schemes for base-load power through Sunday.

It must also be noted that recent instances of load shedding run for longer, often starting at 8am and ending at 11pm. Previously, load shedding would run until 9pm only. This suggests far less of a peak problem (which was the case, historically), and more of a base-load generation issue.

After Stage 4

Eskom’s (now outdated) infographic about Stage 4 load shedding explains matter-of-factly that “should there be a need to go beyond Stage 4, Eskom and the municipalities will implement contingency schedules”. But late last year the utility published schedules for load shedding all the way to Stage 8, something it was forced to do by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa. This is a good thing, as one wonders whether these “contingency schedules” were as detailed and robust as they ought to have been.

Part of the decision to use the pumped storage schemes as base load power sources in an unexpected emergency was surely to ensure that the utility avoided – at all costs – a situation where load shedding shifted to Stage 5. It has never before removed more than 4 000MW of demand from the grid (under the old Stage 3 and new Stage 4 regimes). Because of this, a scenario where it is forced to cut demand by 5 000MW or 6 000MW inherently carries a number of risks. A lot is made of the fact that it would be politically unpalatable to shift to Stage 5, but the country is hurtling towards an election with load shedding almost certainly a regular occurrence until then.

Underlying coal plant performance is dire

In its most recent status report, Eskom says total installed capacity is 46 292MW. From a capacity point of view, it includes the “expect import at Apollo” (i.e. the ±1 100MW from Mozambique) and excludes “Avon and Dedisa”. It is a mystery why it would even contemplate including either of the latter, given that they are peaking plants operated by independent power producers (IPPs).

Using that report, we can see that in the first week of the month, Eskom had somewhere between 26 314MW and 28 077MW available to fulfil peak demand. We do not know the performance of various plants (or even types of plants), but we do know that given the demand/supply mismatch, Eskom is relying heavily on its pumped storage schemes, and its gas/diesel peaking plants.

Strip this out of the equation (as well as imports and Koeberg) and it is highly probable that Eskom has less than 19 000MW available from its coal fleet.

Core generation (illustrative)

Saturday, March 9

Sunday, March 10

Available dispatchable generation (peak)

27 007MW

26 815MW

Less imports

1 100MW

1 100MW

Less pumped storage

2 732MW

2 732MW

Less Koeberg

1 860MW

1 860MW

Less peaking plants (Acacia, Ankerlig, Gourikwa, Port Rex)

2 409MW

2 409MW

Available dispatchable coal generation

18 906MW

18 714MW

There is an additional 700MW in hydroelectric and wind power (from Eskom’s Sere Wind Farm), with use of the former at the Gariep and Vanderkloof dams “restricted to periods of peak demand”. Factor this in, and the total starts looking a lot closer to 18 000MW.

Whether or not renewables and other IPPs are included remains unknown. But with 1 005MW accessible from Avon and Dedisa, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that these very much form part of ‘available generation’. A well-placed source suggests that Avon (670MW) has often been running for 24 hours a day in recent weeks.

Even at a generous 20 000MW, the electricity available from Eskom’s coal fleet is barely 52% of the ±38 599MW nominal capacity. At 19 000MW available from coal, it drops below 50%. The utility keeps saying that available generation capacity availability is 67% (versus a 80% target), with a reported energy availability factor (EAF) of ±62%.

In its core coal fleet, the numbers are horrifyingly worse. And it’s this story that Eskom isn’t telling (and won’t).

* Hilton Tarrant works at YFM. He can still be contacted at

* The irony of this piece being written during yesterday afternoon’s four-hour marathon Stage 4 outage in northern Johannesburg is not lost on the author.

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Even Ramaphosa is no longer shocked. There’s no power to shock him with.

Some parts of Joburg has had 7-9 hours of continuous loadshedding every day since Saturday. The 4.5 hours of loadshedding at a time is a myth. Just one more Eskom lie. I am truly grateful for being off-grid. The money was worth it. Viva power freedom! Eskom must fall.

Some parts of Joburg now experiencing 10 hrs of continuous blackouts. A new record and it’s getting worse.

Strangely, most parts of Brakpan and Nigel has had no load shedding at all.How does that work???

On days like today I think about Ajay, Atul and Rajesh. Probably sipping a lekker cold drink there in Dubai. Lights working, no doubt. Aircons gently humming. Checking the balances of their Swiss bank accounts on their super fancy computers. I wonder if they still remember us folks here in SA.

He (Ramaphosa) is now in the “candle-powered” hot seat ! 😀

I have noticed that Etzinger is remarkably economic with the truth.

He hides behind words. We call it load shedding; the world call its blackouts.

Since 1912 the ANC demanded the opportunity to govern the country. They inherited Eskom with 37GW capacity and ran it down to 21GW or arguably less in terms of this article. I don’t think the NP was wrong to be sceptical about their capacity to govern since most countries in Africa is just an Eskom story as well. I am sick and tired of being politically correct and all this pretending. This is not working and everybody knows it!

Add in two huge power stations that I think may end up tourist attractions.

They can be used as B & B’s once the ANC admit their redundancy.

Prisons. For rogues like Koko, Molefe, Singh, etc. Burn just enough low-quality Gupta coal to make it very uncomfortable for them.

If people of colour had not been excluded from the economy since 1912 there would have been more expertise and a stronger culture of excellence and accountability to draw on, instead of crash-coursing millions of people into positions they were unqualified and unprepared for, and saddled with an inculcated culture of entitlement.

Quite right. We should have imported a few thousand Haitians to show them how to do it.

Nobody forced them to replace 80% of white people (with skills) overnight. They could have made the transition much slower and received a proper handover, but “no” they wanted rapid results for election time. And let’s not forget the destruction caused by Zuma/Guptas/Molefe/Koko etc. That’s got nothing to do with 1912.

I’m sure it’s the fault of Jan Van.

@ChrisBedford: Well it seems that a “culture of excellence and accountability” takes more than 25 years to cultivate. Expertise, despite the “assistance” of AA, BEE, etc., I acknowledge would probably take longer, but given the performance of education & training institutions in the past 25 years, it will take longer than 60 – 70 years, if at all methinks. Opportunities wasted? I’m not going to be around but I’d be willing to bet the failures & looting will continue. If only we had a window into the future.

So this is how ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation (RET) works … taking us back to the Dark Ages.

Maybe 1994 should have been a time to nurture the ANC not dump a beautiful functioning country in their laps. All CEO’s and management get taught before getting the promotion. The world is equally to blame they were demanding the handover not knowing the capacity of the new management.

Great idea but the problem is that the ANC has never listened to anyone. Education and most other areas have gone backwards because in their minds they had to break down the “western way” that worked before installing their own socialist / Marxist base to work from and unfortunately the results are everywhere for everyone to see. Can you imagine the ANC taking instructions on how to run the economy from the NATS or the “capitalist west” ? The fact that they continue to call each other “Comrade” (my pet hate) speaks volumes.

Agree, when I was still farming I was involved in a learnership programme for the emerging farmers. Result: nothing, we were told we were being baas’s and they did not like that.

A beautiful functioning country? What a joke!! It was beautiful and functioning for 10% of the population. There were no roads, electricity or proper running water for those living in the townships. all the money went to support a privileged few. Complain about the leadership today. That leadership was educated in schools deemed fit for people of colour. The chickens have come home to roost, and its the serial complainers who tell the rest to get over apartheid and accept no responsibility for the shape of affairs today. Many are so shocked that people still vote for the ANC. Well who kept the NP in power? It wasn’t the majority!!

My point is with the water under the bridge it should have been done differently.

Now it is functioning for nobody. Much less for the ANC voters than for the ‘baas’s’.

Many groups all over the world (including Afikaners here) went through long periods of oppression. Some were/are able to overcome this and build a future. Others are not.

According to Chris Yelland on his Twitter feed, the peaking plants in the W Cape are out of diesel and the ships supplying replacement stocks have not docked. There is not enough fuel storage capacity to run the peaking plants 24/7. Storage capacity was planned on the basis that the plants would be running 1 – 2 hours a day. So things are actually worse than Tarrant says.

The eternal optimist in me is hoping that the load shedding will finally get people to realize that we have to choose our leaders based on their actual performance and not on empty promises or colour. I’m really hoping that this year’s voting will be the turning point for SA because if it isn’t, we are in for a dark future.

Not any time soon, mate.

Check the Eskom loading shedding schedules for townships. Most don’t even get load shedding until stage 3.

You think that isn’t political?

People in SA always vote for anc and then protest to change how the anc governs afterwards – this is not democracy as the West knows it. Watch out for those ‘service delivery protests’ immediately AFTER the elections… and it will only be days after they had the chance to change the government and their future for the better.

Grumbling is no good – we need to take action:
a) Vote for anyone but the ANC

b) Install solar with batteries and go off grid – render Eskom irrelevant!

Start by replacing your geyser with solar next time you have a problem. If you have a pool pump, solar is a great solution.

On the coast, desalination should use wave energy directly.


Off grid costs R200k plus. Too costly for most people plus every five years the battery is likely to fail.

Make sure to put in a solar geyser. In my case I switched off the power, with two people in the house it always provides hot water even on cloudy days.

Solar geyser + small UPS + Gas cooking is the way to go. When eskom prices reach the stratosphere we can consider going off grid.

That’s a little excessive… quote I got was R120K with batteries and around 9/10 panels. That was with an upscale inverter. Methinks its even cheaper now with more and more people getting in on the game.

R200k plus is about right. For a 6.6 kw system with 5kW grid active inverter cost about R120k installed (24 x 275W Chinese panels). A Tesla Powerwall 2 13.5kWh storage costs about R120k installed. Total R240k. My system makes about 28kWh/ day on average. On a sunny summer day about 41kWh. Winter with rain can be as low as 10kWh. I don’t have the Powerwall, just the panels and inverter.

R120k or R200k, makes no difference for the average South African, it is un-affordable, could just as well be R200 billion for all the difference that would make.

Not so easy mate. They will tax you for your solar panels; because you are the moneybags keeping the municipality afloat.

The problem is not with residential use. That can always be swapped out for gas, solar and home generators. The problem is with industry and retail.
How can one be expected to run a manufacturing concern or a mine without plentiful cheap electricity?
(I would love to see a mine running off solar power!)

OK, sounds great… until you try running a large factory off grid!

This is actually all just part of Eskom’s Go Green plan. We are at 50% wind and solar and we fot thee much much faster than Germany

Agree with TryingToRetire, It is possible for the average consumer to cut Eskom electricity usage to bare minimum while working to going off grid. Me and wife in normal 3 bedroom house with pool are using less than 350Kwh/ month which I think is pretty good. How ?, all LED lightning, gas stove, Solar Geyser and be use conscious, next step is to slowly built up solar capacity. Replace electrical appliances with lowest energy usage rating.

In a system that is supposed to have 46290 MW capacity, a loss of 1100 MW or 2.4% caused the implementation of Stage 4, or 4000 MW reduction in output. Just based on the basic math, I have to agree with the author, there is a lot that they are not telling us…

But this is publicly available information, nothing new here.

Why cant I see a light at the end of the tunnel?
Be creative in your answer.

I guess They use the constructionworkers from Medupi and Kusele to dig the tunnel and the candlelight by which they dig is to weak for you to see…….

The workers are on strike for higher pay, housing allowance, transport allowance, more leave and a double bonus so the tunnel isn’t finished !

Monday 18 March , 11h20 – Ankerlig, Western Cape, i see some diesel gensets running…not all

The daily fiasco called Eskom is definitely, totally, without question, absolutely transformed and decolonised. IMF research said 17000 is the optimal number of workers but Eskom disagreed saying 32000 is the right number. Current staff 49000 and no plans for retrenchment. Eskom’s biggest department: Those that play on cellphones all day at taxpayer expense. One thing you learn the hard way, when an unskilled person obtains apposition well ahead of their competencies and pay level removing is a massive task: Everyone wants to ride the gravy train for as long as possible. But you ain’t seen nothing yet because they have not started fighting amongst each other …yet.

And Molefe is still a free man with the pension wrongfully paid to this thug still with him ……..all the other thieves are also free……..promises for action but they are still free and after the election they will still be free

Since the ANC took over in 1994, we’ve seen a consistent downward trajectory across the board: in government, education, health systems, the economy, jobs, SOEs, etc, etc. A healthy, functioning infrastructure has been slowly crippled.
The common denominator? Greedy, corrupt, incompetent unqualified comrades in government, SOEs, unions, etc.
The government is quick to condemn colonialism and racism (meaning white on black, of course), but the fact is that Nothing does more to fuel racism than the sad realities mentioned above

I run a company that used to deliver coal to Eskom sites(which I have stopped doing) and the amount of redtape that trucks have to go through to delivery coal is just mind boggling. No wonder they run out of coal so often. It takes one truck 4hours from the time it arrives to offload to the time it leaves. More the operator are niggly about every aspect of the vehicle, the vehicle will only fit their specs if it is bran new after 2 days of operation it no longer meets their requirements. Operators are always finding ways to use the book to make money by demanding bribes from the driver.

It’s all about bribery soliciting, not about receiving coal.

I experienced almost 12 hours with no power Saturday, and about 7 hours Sunday.

Imagine the tourists arriving here and no electricity!

I love that the ANC is doing its bit for private wind & solar. Possibly without realizing it, but every green electron is sacred

The irony of this reader rushing through this article before the 10am power cut in which there’s no WiFi to read online, is also not lost….

End of comments.





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