/ 22 January 2023

Eskom: Stage two and three load-shedding here for next two years

Blackouts Cripple South Africa Again
Load-shedding has been a disruptor for households and businesses across South Africa. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africans will probably have to deal with stages two and three load-shedding for the next two years to allow Eskom to undertake maintenance of its power generating units, the utility’s chairperson, Mpho Makwana, said on Sunday.

The country is enduring the worst bout of load-shedding since Eskom introduced rolling blackouts more than 15 years ago, with some areas going without electricity for up to 10 hours in total a day under stage six. Eskom says the power cuts are necessary to avoid a total collapse of the grid as its ageing and poorly maintained units struggle to generate enough electricity to meet demand.

At the Eskom management team’s media briefing on the energy crisis, Makwana said teams were working hard at the power stations to improve the units’ reliability. 

He acknowledged that shuttling the country from one stage of load-shedding to another within a short space of time was not good, but said this was required to execute a recovery plan “while giving the country a level of consistency to plan around their livelihoods”.

In a statement also issued on Sunday, Eskom said the October 2022 failure of the chimney system at its Kusile power station, which removed more than 2 000 megawatts of capacity, was the major cause of the recent elevated stages of load-shedding. This, together with the planned extended outage of unit one of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, was responsible for three stages of load-shedding.

“We are working with urgency to resolve the generation capacity constraints and to reduce the load-shedding as soon as possible,” Eskom said. “The reality, however, is that resolving the problems impacting the performance of the generation coal fleet will take longer than South Africa wants and needs.”

The company reiterated that it was grappling with deep structural and maintenance problems in the aging fleet of generators, which are, on average, 45 years old this year, just five years away from the usual 50-year operating life of a power station.

“In this context, Eskom reiterates that the only way to end load-shedding is to add additional capacity. The shortfall is currently estimated at 4 000MW to 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,” the utility warned.

During the media briefing, Makwana said the key levers to the successful recovery of Eskom’s generating fleet “is the fixing of the systemic issues that are troubling the organisation such as leadership, organisational culture and poor internal controls required to operate an organisation. These will be embedded as part of the recovery plan.”

He said ensuring the Kendal, Matla, Majuba, Duvha, Tutuka and Kusile stations were reliable and getting an additional unit at Kusile functioning would stop load-shedding within two years. 

“We also need to protect and guard the best performing power stations such as Matimba, Medupi [and] Lethabo so that they do not deteriorate,” he added

Outgoing Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter, who resigned in December but will stay on in the job until 31 March, said as winter approached, the utility would scale down its planned maintenance, in keeping with its practice of scheduling more maintenance during summer months when demand is lower. 

But De Ruyter warned that system capacity would probably remain constrained and supply would be tight for the remainder of the year.  

On a positive note, he said there was an estimated 9 200MW of embedded generation projects in the pipeline. “When these projects are added to the grid they are intended to start feeding into the grid by the end of this year. We will see a meaningful difference being made to the supply situation.”

De Ruyter noted that there have been speculation about load-shedding being ramped up to stage eight, saying the possibility of that was receding, but there was still an inherent risk. 

He pleaded with consumers to pay for their electricity to help ease Eskom’s financial constraints. “Liquidity remains a key issue with municipal debt now approaching R57 billion.

“If we don’t receive payment for the electricity that we provide, of course we are compromised from a position to carry out planned maintenance, to buy the feedstocks and the diesel that we need to keep the lights on. So paying your account is an extremely important role that you as an individual can play to enable us to put load-shedding behind us.”

In its statement, Eskom said it would implement stage three load-shedding from Sunday afternoon until 5am on Monday.

“Stage two load-shedding will be implemented during the day at 5am to 4pm, whereafter stage one load-shedding will be implemented daily. On Monday afternoon stage four load-shedding will be implemented at 4pm to 5am. Evening load-shedding will then be reduced to stage three from Tuesday until further notice.”

Six generating units were anticipated to return to service during the week, which will enable Eskom to maintain load-shedding at the lower stages, but the utility’s statement warned that there was considerable risk to this outlook, because the system was unreliable and unpredictable.