Eskom unplugs fears of load-shedding

About a quarter of its generation capacity is out of commission but power utility Eskom says it does not expect load-shedding this winter.

Of its 45 646 megawatts of commercially operating installed capacity, 11 296MW is unavailable because of planned maintenance and breakdowns or has been shut down as a cost-saving measure, Eskom said in response to questions.

The largest portion — 6 966MW — is out as a result of breakdowns and 3 430MW because of maintenance.

To save costs, 175MW of Eskom’s oldest, least efficient units have been placed on “cold reserve”, which means a unit is offline but can be called back in 12 to 16 hours, and 735MW has been placed on “extended cold reserve” — in effect no longer available.

According to Eskom, its unplanned capability loss factor — a measure of how much of its plant is unavailable because of breakdowns — is currently in the region of just over 14%, against a target of 12%.

This dramatic change in Eskom’s operating performance comes at a time when there is meant to be a surplus of electricity supply.

Last week Eskom revealed a major spike in the use of its open cycle gas turbines — meant to be used at times of increased demand — with fuel spend rising from R4.67-million in January to more than R140-million by the end of March.

Eskom said its plans for winter are nearly complete and that it does most of its maintenance in summer, which allows for higher plant availability in winter. “However, as with any system, the situation may change due to unforeseen events such as adverse weather conditions and unforeseen major plant failures.”

It has been suggested that Eskom, which is facing major financial constraints, has been underspending on maintenance in a bid to manage its cash. But the utility denied this, saying spending on maintenance was “well within our budget”.

Despite a further downgrade by ratings agency Moody’s last week, Eskom said it did not expect this to affect its funding plans. “We have seen tangible support from the financial markets and remain confident that we will … secure the funding [for the 2019 financial year].”

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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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