/ 13 August 2023

Electricity generation capacity continues to improve, says Ramokgopa

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Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

There has been considerable improvement in generation capacity, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said in his weekly update on the implementation of the energy action plan.

“The capacity available now … we are beginning to normalise available capacity, to be upwards of 29 000 megawatts,” Ramokgopa said on Sunday.

 “So, in some instances, very close to that, but we are getting to a situation, thanks to the leadership of Eskom … and the men and women who are committed to the resolution of this problem, located at the various power stations. They are doing everything possible to make sure we are able to have available capacity.” 

For the past week, he said, generation averaged about 28 932 megawatts, breaching 29 000 MW on Tuesday and Thursday. The minister said this was “an illustration of the consistency on the generation side”.

As anticipated, during winter, demand surged with the stages of load-shedding being intensified, but Ramokgopa said the expectation now is that as the country starts to experience less severe periods of cold, demand will taper down. 

“As we’re improving the generation side, what the team will be doing to ensure that there’s long-term sustainability of these units, they’re becoming more reliable, is to ramp up planned outages,” he said.

“When we went into winter, we said the deliberate action to take out the units for service was going to be reduced so we have as many units as possible producing the megawatts. Now that generating is gradually improving… we have breached now the 60% energy availability factor (EAF) comfortably, and then also the demand is going down.”

He said for long-term sustainability, maintenance was essential and Eskom continued to take out some units as and when necessary.

“We can see that planned maintenance is gradually going up and that’s what takes out, if you like, our ability to reduce the intensity of load-shedding,” the minister said.

Ramokgopa described this as “short-term pain, but long-term gain”, because when these units come back, “they are able to sustain the levels of performance that approximate their design conditions”.

Impacts of load-shedding

July marked the first anniversary of the energy action plan, which Ramokgopa touted as a “coherent and comprehensive response” to South Africa’s energy crisis.

“As everyone knows, load-shedding is causing untold devastation on the South African economy; there’s a lot of people that are out of jobs, there are companies that folded, farmers are finding it very difficult to continue to produce,” he said.

Retailers, the minister said, are having to expend a lot of upfront capital costs to meet the requirements associated with buying generators and operational costs for keeping the cold chain and their operations going.

“Small businesses in the townships are finding it very difficult to continue to operate, investors can’t find a legitimate reason why they have to continue to invest in the South African economy and therefore there’s an opportunity cost associated with load-shedding.”

Burning diesel

At the briefing Rudi Dicks, the head of project management in the presidency, initially said R12.4 billion had been spent on diesel until the end of July. He later clarified that this figure included private open-cycle gas turbines “so it slightly inflated the figures”, and the Eskom figure was actually R9.2 billion. 

Ramakgopa said the winter outlook was anchored on three interventions, including using diesel to power open-cycle gas turbines to reduce blackouts. 

“The first was continued improvement of EAF, the second was on working with public and industry to reduce demand and the third factor was going to ensure that we increase the exploitation of the peaking plants essentially to burn diesel to be able to protect the South African economy,” he said.

“And we did say even at the time, it’s going to come at a great cost to the fiscus and it was always part of our deliberate strategy to protect the economy … You have to make a choice on whether you continue to burn this diesel essentially, expending a lot of money and protect the economy or allow the economy to go on freefall while we could be spending some bit of money. 

“Of course, we don’t have that money in buckets, but we needed to do that to protect the economy.”