Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramakgopa. (Theana Breugem/Foto24/Gallo Images)
Higher stages of load-shedding do not mean that a grid collapse is imminent, Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said on Friday.
There’s a “public narrative that there’s a doomsday scenario” of a national blackout, said Ramokgopa at a briefing on the progress made in implementing the energy action plan.
“In many instances, when people conduct their monologues, they make the point that there’s a situation of grid collapse,” he said. “We want to say that that is highly improbable. Of course, we do accept that it’s inherent in systems of this nature that you can have a catastrophic event but it’s extremely low, given the kind of control measure that exists in Eskom.”
The possibility of a grid collapse under unforeseen circumstances, such as an earthquake or a major flood that decimates the transmission grid, “puts us at risk of grid collapse”.
“If you see stage five or stage six [of load-shedding], it doesn’t mean that you are closer to a grid collapse; it simply gives the assurance that the system controller is in charge of the system … in fact, it should give you additional confidence. Of course, we don’t want load-shedding, but … it’s an instrument at the disposal of the system controller to make sure that we are able to balance supply and demand.”
Multiple safeguards exist, Ramokgopa said, “so we’re confident about our ability not to get to that stage and Eskom tests these systems regularly”.
The current focus, he said, remains on preventing a national blackout and ensuring essential service continuity during higher stages of load-shedding.
Referring to the government’s appeal to set aside the recent high court judgement that exempts public health facilities, schools and police stations from rolling blackouts, he said:
“Quite apart from the court process, the appeal, some of the work that we are doing now is to work with various provincial governments … We’ve already quantified, at an aggregate level, what is the amount of money that is required to put in place various interventions.”
There are multiple permutations. “Just on generators, we have done what the numbers are for a big hospital, a small hospital, and also you compute in there what are the costs of diesel. We’ve also done the computation, if you just have PV on its own, what is the capital cost, and PV plus battery energy storage, what is the cost to that. We’ve been engaging with multiple players, including the diplomatic community.”
The government would soon announce a major grant that the Chinese government and its people are “making available to us so we’re able to install in these multiple strategic installations, so we don’t get to a situation where we fail to provide our promise of uninterrupted, quality supply to major installations in the country”.
The court case will take “its own course” but “we’re working tirelessly to ensure that load-shedding is reduced to “tolerable levels”, he said, adding that load-shedding by definition is not tolerable “but I’m sure we all appreciate that stage one is not stage six. But we want to eliminate all the stages. That is our mandate.”
Talking about progress made, Ramokgopa said Eskom’s procurement of additional generating capacity is being accelerated in a bid to avert the “worst-case scenario” this winter.
“We are really trying to avert the worst-case scenario and approximate the condition of the best-case scenario. And we’re talking about the period that really started in May and will continue until August. That’s the first phase. I call it surviving winter, really. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
He also said that considerable amounts would need to be spent on diesel to run Open-Cycle Gas Turbines to alleviate the strain on coal stations. The minister warned that the country would need to spend more than R30 billion if we carry on burning diesel at the current rate.
He said two additional hybrid projects from the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Procurement programme had been approved by the Eskom board and would proceed to legal close.
“We project that these projects will reach close by the end of June this year. They’re going to add an additional 274 megawatts to the grid.”
South Africa, he said, would be receiving 80MW from Mozambique, with an additional 1 000 megawatts to be provided by that country in the next six months, amid ongoing negotiations, while three additional units at Kusile would return in December to supply 2 400MW to the grid. Unit 5 at Kusile would return in October, bringing the total to 3 200MW.
He highlighted the “tremendous support” from the business sector through the resource mobilisation fund, which is a R100 million facility that is “meant to give us technical support to embed at the various power stations”.
Demand side management
Rudi Dicks, who heads the project management office in the presidency, said some of the more immediate interventions to balance the system and ensure there are not higher stages of load-shedding are focused on demand-side management.
“This is about what we can do as citizens, as businesses … This is the start of the campaign we want to launch, which is quite intensive, and what we want to see is a significant reduction in the next three or four months.
“We had a very successful campaign in 2010 — we were able to save over 3 000MW. We did the same successful demand-side campaign in 2015 again when we had significant problems and here again we’re asking citizens to be able to use electricity sparingly.”
This programme entails a range of implementation measures to prevent load-shedding from exceeding stage six over the winter period.
“We’re going to look at a number of interventions to avoid and reduce unplanned breakdowns and return additional units to service … The most important and most urgent intervention we can have right now is by curbing load-shedding over the winter period by reducing our demand. It’s possible to reduce demand by 1 000MW — that’s one stage of load-shedding.
The three target areas include energy saving measures by households, participation in the distribution demand management programme and investment in rooftop solar by households and business. Taking these simple measures could limit the severity of load-shedding, he said.
“Switch off electricity geysers at peak times … The residential sector consumes 24% to 25% of electricity or 35% of total peak demand. Geysers, water heating, consumes the greatest amount of electricity, which drives peak demand … If we simply switch off our geysers, we’re able to significantly reduce that demand that’s there.”
Inverter charging, he said, can add up to 1 400MW of excess demand, or more than one stage of load-shedding, during times when the grid is already constrained.
“Switch off pool pumps and other energy-intensive appliances; switch off lights, appliances and device charges while you’re not using them; switch to gas for cooking and heating and replace lights with energy-saving LEDs. As we ask households to save, we need industrial customers to also put in an effort …
“We have to ensure that measures are being taken in government buildings across the state sector over the next 12 months to reduce demand. We still see a significant number of lights that are on, inefficient systems that are there … If we are able to introduce 10% saving, that’s about 300MW to 400MW of saving from the government or state sector, that is going to be quite critical.”