‘Load-shedding not the same as blackouts’ — Eskom CEO

Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter took a moment during a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon to take issue with journalists referring to the latest wave of load-shedding as “blackouts”.

“This terminology is, in fact, not correct. What we are implementing is called load-shedding. And you may think this is a euphemism. It is not,” De Ruyter said.

“A blackout is exactly what we are trying to avoid by implementing load-shedding. A blackout is what we have seen in Texas, for example, where you have an extended system outage for a number of days and, in some instances, even weeks … That is the catastrophic outcome that we are trying to avoid by managing the demand through load-shedding.”

Eskom, saddled with a creaking generation infrastructure after years of poor maintenance, has been forced to implement intermittent rolling power outages for the past 14 years or so to avoid overwhelming the national grid.

The chief of the ailing power utility singled out broadcaster eNCA for using the two terms — load-shedding and blackouts — interchangeably.

Earlier in the briefing, De Ruyter gave an update on Eskom’s current system challenges. 

On Monday, Eskom announced it would escalate load-shedding from stage two to stage four amid ongoing generation-capacity shortages. On Wednesday morning, following a recovery of its emergency generation reserves, the utility scaled load-shedding down to stage three.

Stage three load-shedding means that up to 3 000 megawatts of capacity needs to be shed. Under stage three, consumers can expect to be shed up to nine times over a four-day period.

According to De Ruyter, by Wednesday afternoon, 7 261MW of generation capacity had been taken offline for planned maintenance. There are 6 080MW offline due to unplanned outages, he said, marking an improvement since Eskom was forced to implement load-shedding stage four.

“Summer months typically have a lower demand overall and, therefore, our preferred time for carrying out maintenance is during summer months,” De Ruyter explained.

“But of course, as we have seen, the increase in ambient temperatures have also exposed some of the weaknesses in our cooling water systems. And that has led to unplanned outages.”

Eskom also recorded partial losses of 5 050MW, bringing the total unplanned load loss to 11 130MW. “This is a reasonably good number,” De Ruyter said.

“You may recall that when we were facing stage four load-shedding, at one stage unplanned outages were as high as 17 000MW. So there has been a very good recovery in the unplanned outages.”

During peak electricity demand on Wednesday night 10 November, Eskom is expecting a demand of 28 271MW. But Eskom’s total capacity is 26 973MW, leaving a shortfall of 1 298MW.

Eskom is on track to lift load-shedding on Saturday morning, De Ruyter said. “That forecast remains intact.”

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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