Buy a generator – electricity expert

‘Way beyond crisis, this is a catastrophe’.

Electricity expert, Doug Kuni said that all South Africans can do now about the current electricity situation is to buy candles and a generator. “You are going to need it for the next five to ten years,” he said.

Kuni said on Friday, after Eskom announced stage three loadshedding, that the country’s power system had never been in such a bad state. Kuni is an independent electricity consultant and former MD of the South African Independent Power Producers Association (Saippa)

Stage three loadshedding means Eskom is 4 000MW short of the electricity demand, forecast on Thursday to be around 28 000MW. It is the highest level of loadshedding contemplated in Eskom’s published material. Although it has 45 583MW at its disposal, the utility can apparently only access 24 000MW due to “planned and unplanned” maintenance.

Stage two loadshedding (2 000MW short) was implemented on Thursday and further loadshedding was expected on Saturday and Sunday. If it goes ahead, this would be the third weekend in a row that South Africans are subjected to rotational power cuts because electricity demand outstrips supply.

Load shedding schedules for municipal schedules are available here. Click on your municipality to see days and times affected.

Direct Eskom customers can search for their suburbs here.

Upkeep neglected

Kuni said Eskom’s generation fleet is breaking down on a large scale because the utility does only statutory maintenance and fails to do the general overhauls needed. Statutory maintenance is what needs to be done to prevent the Department of Labour’s inspector of machinery from shutting a power station down.

At the moment, unit three at Eskom’s Duvha power station is out of action after an as yet unexplained incident in March.

The Majuba power station was crippled by the November 1 collapse of its central coal silo and the Lethabo power station is battling a backlog in ash removal that has affected the output.

Diesel reserves are low, as Eskom increased its utilisation of diesel turbines from about three hours a day to up to 16 hours, while water reserves at its pump storage units have been depleted. The water reserves are expected to be restored over the weekend, but the other problems as well as further “technical issues” will take longer to resolve.

Kuni said loadshedding is now spread more evenly among Eskom customers after a change in policy. Residential customers are now the first to be loadshed, rather than industrial customers, who were previously the first port of call. Regardleess, the supply deficit has grown substantially, Kuni said.

No experts left

Relief will be brought only by implementing several courses of action simultaneously, Kuni continued. “To determine the programme of action requires expertise that Eskom doesn’t have,” he maintained.

“All of them (the experts) have left.”

At Eskom’s recent interim results presentation, Minister of Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown said an “international expert” was inspecting Eskom’s fleet and it was becoming clear what should be done. She did not name the expert and her spokesperson Colin Cruywagen also couldn’t name him on Friday, but it is widely accepted she referred to Mike Rossouw, former chairperson of the Intensive Energy Users Group (IEUG).

Kuni, however, is unconvinced that either of them “know electricity”, although they think that they do.

While Rossouw is highly respected, his background is in mining. He has no power station experience and does not have the expertise needed in this case, Kuni argued.

In its power system adequacy outlook published in October, electricity regulator Nersa showed the peak electricity demand for 2014 was more than 5% lower than in 2007. This could be due to demand side management (telling people to conserve power) and higher tariffs.

Nersa put Eskom’s generation capacity at 45 563MW, including power imports, renewable energy and energy it buys from other parties.

Nersa put the reserve margin for 2014 that Eskom was supposed to have at 31.72%, although the state utility currently has a zero- and at times negative reserve margin, hence the loadshedding.

Kuni said the connection of new renewable energy to the grid is of little value in the current situation, because the output cannot be controlled and it therefore introduces instability to the grid. Instability, he said, will increase as more renewable projects are connected.

Eskom spokespeople were in a meeting on Friday afternoon and were not available to shed more light on the current situation.



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