All of us have endured permanent loadshedding since September 2022, with short intervals of relief over the festive season.
Businesses’ and households’ concerns were heightened following numerous claims of a potential, total blackout
However, during a media briefing on Sunday, 22 January 2023, Eskom explained it was fully aware of the difficulties caused to the public and the economy by the continued power capacity constraints.
“Eskom would like to apologise to the people of South Africa for these difficulties and to assure the public that, together with the government and other stakeholders, we are working with urgency to resolve the generation capacity constraints and to reduce the loadshedding as soon as possible,” the electricity provider stressed.
The reality, however, is that resolving the problems impacting the performance of the generation coal fleet will take longer than South Africans would have hoped.
According to Eskom, the October 2022 failure of the chimney system at the Kusile Power Station, which removed more than 2 000MW of capacity, is the major cause of the elevated stages of loadshedding.
“This, together with the planned extended outage of Unit 1 of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, are responsible for three stages of loadshedding. Eskom is making every effort to reduce the duration of these outages as much as possible,” explained the power utility.
Adding to this and with fears of a national power outage, Eskom explained, “Although the stages of loadshedding have been high and for extended periods, this does not indicate that the power system is approaching a blackout. In fact, loadshedding is implemented to ensure the appropriate reserve margins are maintained to manage the risk of a blackout. Therefore, there is no higher risk of a blackout than normal.”
Eskom admitted it is still grappling with deep structural and maintenance problems in its current and ageing fleet of generators, which are on average 45 years of age this year. The typical operating life of a power station is 50 years.
“In this context, Eskom reiterates that the only way to end loadshedding is to add additional capacity. The shortfall is currently estimated at 4 000MW – 6 000MW of generation capacity. This supply deficit can only increase as the current fleet gets on in years and its performance continues to deteriorate,” it said.
Eskom additionally thanked the government for the interventions that have so far helped procure some additional generation capacity through the Independent Power Producer Office, as well as regulatory amendments to enable embedded generation investors to add new capacity.
“These projects are estimated to exceed 9 200MW and will, when they come online, help relieve some of the pressure and help reduce the occurrence of loadshedding.”
Furthermore, Eskom claimed that both it and the government were expeditiously making efforts to acquire additional generation capacity from existing operators, both within South Africa and the region.
“It must be noted, however, that the problem requires more intensive interventions to sustainably resolve the current challenges. It is critical that the criminal syndicates who are stealing coal and spares, and who commit sabotage, be brought to book. Eskom welcomes recent arrests, as well as the deployment of the South African National Defence Force and requests a redoubling of efforts in this regard to apprehend the leadership of the syndicates,” said Eskom.
For its part, Eskom claimed that it was working hard to execute maintenance of the power station fleet to improve the reliability of the generating units and to improve the energy availability factor.
Planned maintenance, currently at 6 022MW (approximately 11% of installed capacity), is optimised during the summer months and will taper off towards the high-demand winter period. This is to ensure maximum availability during the winter, to meet as much demand as possible.
In addition to the planned maintenance programme, Eskom is allegedly focusing on returning as many of the units with long-term breakdowns as possible.
“The target is to return about 6 000MW of generating capacity onto the grid during the next 24 months. These are in the Top 6 target power stations. Each power station has detailed recovery plans,” the power utility stipulated.
Eskom further pointed out that progress is being made in returning Unit 4 of the Medupi Power Station, which suffered a generator explosion in August 2021. The unit is anticipated to return to service in September 2024.
Together, the three Kusile Power Station units, combined with Medupi 4, have a shortfall of approximately 2 900MW in generation capacity – equivalent to three stages of loadshedding.
In addition to the above, the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station will continue operating at half of its 1 800MW generating capacity for the next 15 months.
Unit 1 is currently on a regular refuelling and maintenance outage that will include the replacement of the three steam generators as part of the requirement and preparation of the unit for long-term operation. It is anticipated the unit will return to service in June 2023.
Koeberg Unit 2 will undergo a similar outage starting in September 2023. It is anticipated this will take approximately six months to execute. Upon successful execution, the combined investment in both Koeberg units will secure 1 800MW of generation capacity for a further period of 20 years, subject to regulatory approval. An application for the licence extension was lodged with the Regulator in July 2022.
Eskom added that the gas air heater fire, while in the custody of the contractor, during September 2022 resulted in the delay in the commissioning of Unit 5 of Kusile Power Station and has also removed a possible 720MW from the grid.
“Efforts are being made to expedite the repairs and to bring the unit online within the shortest space of time. Current indications, however, are that the unit’s commissioning has been delayed by approximately 12 months. It is anticipated the unit will be synchronised to the grid during July 2023,” the power utility said.
Together, these long-term projects and breakdowns are contributing to the high levels of breakdowns and have set Eskom back at least 4 500MW of generation capacity, equivalent to five stages of loadshedding. This makes for a further elevated risk of loadshedding while repairing these is in progress.
With no end to loadshedding in sight for the immediate future, what are your thought?
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