Eskom escalates load-shedding to stage four

Ailing state power utility Eskom has announced more intensive rolling blackouts due to its ongoing generation capacity shortages.

On Monday afternoon, the utility announced that it was due to shift from stage-two load-shedding to stage four, which would see customers losing power at double the frequency. Stage four will last until early on Friday morning, when stage two will be reinstated until 5am on Saturday.

The announcement comes a day after Eskom told customers to expect stage two load-shedding until the weekend.

Eskom, saddled with a creaking generation infrastructure after years of poor maintenance, has been forced to implement intermittent rolling blackouts for the past 13 years or so to avoid overwhelming the national grid.

“While Eskom regrets the escalation in load-shedding, it is necessary to ration the remaining emergency generation reserves, which have been utilised extensively this morning as we are not getting the reduction in demand as expected from the implementation of stage two load-shedding,” the utility said in a statement on Monday.

“It was anticipated that an additional seven units would have returned to service by Monday, and this has not materialised.”

Adding to Eskom’s woes, a generating unit at Arnot power station in Mpumalanga tripped on Monday morning.

“We remind customers that load-shedding is implemented as a last resort to maintain the stability of the power system regardless of the stage of load-shedding … Eskom would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by the implementation of load-shedding, and requests the public to reduce the usage of electricity in order to help us through the constraints,” the utility said.

South Africans only experienced a brief respite from stage four — which means consumers can expect to be shed up to 12 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time — which was last implemented on 5 November.

That last round of stage-four blackouts, announced days after South Africans took to the polls to vote in the local government elections, was due to the loss of several generating units and because Eskom had run out of diesel to fire open-cycle gas turbines to keep the lights on.

Late last month, in a statement accompanying a briefing on the state of Eskom’s operations, the utility conceded that the rotational power cuts were a significant drag on South Africa’s economy — which is still reeling from the blow dealt by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer noted that increased maintenance has escalated the probability of load-shedding in the short term.

In the year to date, the energy availability factor (EAF) has declined to 65%, missing a target of 70%, the statement noted, adding: “A key contributor to the low EAF was the high levels of planned maintenance during the summer months. However, there has also been an increase in unplanned outages during this period.”

South Africa needs an additional 4 000MW to 6 000MW of capacity to help Eskom undertake its maintenance programme, Oberholzer emphasised.

“We are shy [of capacity]. And what we have available in terms of capacity to grow the economy of the country is really challenging,” he said.

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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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