/ 31 August 2022

A not-so-bright summer, as Eskom blackouts seems inevitable

Nersa Slaps Down Eskom's R8bn Plea
Eskom’s financial situation renders it unable to service utilities from its own revenue. Over R200 billion of the utility’s debt has been considered distressed debt — which must be paid back with urgency — by Eskom chief financial officer Calib Cassim.

Load-shedding over the summer months appears unavoidable, with at least 24 days of stage one blackouts expected between now and August next year. 

Eskom’s worst case scenario forecasts almost daily load-shedding during this period.

The state-owned utility’s summer outlook comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa last month announced his plan to end load-shedding, which, for the past 15 years or so, has choked an economy that has been drained of jobs. Ramaphosa established a national energy crisis committee to ensure implementation of the announced measures.

South Africa has already had 77 days of load-shedding this financial year — a worrying figure compared with a total of 65 days for the previous year.

On Wednesday, Eskom presented its system outlook in a joint meeting of parliament’s public enterprises and mineral resources committees. Its plan outlines three scenarios for outages over the coming months.

In the base case, there will be 13 000 megawatts (MW) of unplanned capacity losses. This loss is ramped up by 1 500MW in the next scenario, with the worst case planning for 16 000MW of unplanned capacity losses. The expected unplanned capacity losses are higher in summer than in winter because Eskom does more maintenance during the warmer period.

The presentation showed that according to its winter plan, Eskom seldom managed to achieve its base case scenario and was, for the most part, either in its worst-case scenario or above that.

Eskom conceded that its summer plan was “tight” and any significant outage slips would have a knock-on effect. The plan also does not factor in industrial action.

To execute its plan, Eskom said it will need all resources and funding at its disposal. Delayed procurement, especially of the diesel the utility uses to run its emergency turbines, will throw the plan out of whack.

If, as in the winter months, the country has to endure Eskom’s worst-case scenario, there will be 298 days of stage three or above load-shedding. But it is more likely that Eskom will move between its base case and worst-case scenario over the period.

“We are not in any one of the scenarios on a permanent basis 24/7. So this is absolutely the worst-case scenario,” said Eskom systems operator Isabel Fick.

“Often these numbers, even if misinterpreted, seem like we are headed for a major, major disaster. The fact is, yes, we are expecting more load-shedding. However, this is not cast in stone.”

She added that the initiatives spear-headed by the national energy crisis committee will greatly reduce the risk of load-shedding. “Keeping in mind that it has to happen fast and with all of the resources there. So I’m going to need, as the system operator … all of the different departments and all of the different roleplayers to do their part and to help and assist us.”