/ 6 April 2023

Electricity Minister Ramokgopa: Brace for a dark winter

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa2
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

Despite measures taken since the declaration of the national state of disaster on electricity in February, to mitigate the impact of severe load-shedding, the worst is yet to come.

This is according to Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who warned that higher stages of load-shedding would be experienced during winter.

“There is a shortfall of 6 000MW of generating capacity to meet demand. The energy availability factor — the percentage of total installed capacity available at any given time — is at 53% and meeting demand would only get more difficult in the winter months,” he said.

Last month, Ramokgopa visited 15 of Eskom’s power stations and he gave an update on his findings on Thursday.

He stressed that some very difficult decisions would need to be made going into the winter period, as well as in the longer term. These included refurbishing the coal-fired power stations to stabilise the grid.

The fiscus had to invest in refurbishing the coal-fired power stations to improve their performance and he would advance this as his preferred option when he presented his plans to the cabinet before the end of April.

 “Eskom has no money to invest in capital cost. When you accept that as a given, and say there is nothing you can do as a country, then accept that you are going to have higher levels of load-shedding, then accept that the total cost to the economy continues to be exponential,” he said.

The investment would be recovered in terms of higher economic growth, job creation and higher tax revenues, Ramokgopa said.

The minister said that one of the options available was to reduce the demand for electricity.

“The first option — ramp up generation; the second option — bring down demand; the third option, our preferred option, is that you do both – you ramp up generation and reduce demand, but as you reduce demand, you don’t undermine the ability of households to meet their daily needs and you don’t undermine the ability of commerce and business to operate.”

“We have a situation where demand far exceeds supply. That is what is facing Eskom. The quest that we are trying to do is to close that gap,” he said.

There is a shortfall

He explained that Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) averages 53%, resulting in a significant gap between generation capacity and demand.

“Our initial computations suggest that we need something in the order of magnitude of about 6 000MW for us to be able to close this gap,” the minister said.

“This is a determination made in summer conditions. On average, Eskom can guarantee us about 27 000MW, and we know that peak demand in summer is about 32 000MW.”

On Wednesday, during a media briefing, the government withdrew, with immediate effect, the national state of disaster declared less than two months ago. Despite this, Ramokgopa is likely to remain in his position as minister of electricity.

Eskom has had to resort to near constant load-shedding since January. In March, it was able to suspend it for a full 24-hour period for the first time this year, but has since reverted to daily stage three and four power cuts which leave South Africans without power for about six hours a day as it struggles to balance power supply with demand.

On Friday, Eskom released an outlook for the next year indicating it would be unable to meet the country’s energy requirements, with load-shedding likely to be implemented throughout 2023.

In its report it announced that the utility would experience shortages of more than two 000MW between April this year and March next year. This meant permanent stage two would continue until next year.

Better performing stations 

Speaking to the media during a visit to Cape Town’s Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in March, Ramokgopa said coal-powered fire stations would need to up their performance during the winter season because there would be delays in one of its units returning to service.

“Those underperforming power stations in Mpumalanga, Tutuka Power Station in particular, have to make significant improvements,” Ramokgopa said.

“We know that at Kusile [Power Station] we can’t make an improvement anytime earlier than in November of this year.”

“So it means that the other [power stations] must meet the demands disproportionately because in winter, we know the demand is going to rise exponentially,” he said.

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa