/ 23 October 2023

Ramokgopa hails progress on electricity but warns on Koeberg

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Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa

Losing both generating units at the Koeberg nuclear power station would be catastrophic and undermine the progress made in improving the country’s energy supply, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said on Monday.

Ramokgopa said this in response to a media question during the government’s biweekly energy action update. This is against the backdrop of one unit at Koeberg being offline for repairs. Unit two was scheduled for repairs in early November but this had to be delayed because repairs to the first have not been concluded. 

Ramokgopa said having both units out at the same time “will subtract from the progress we are making and [it] undermines the nuclear programme in the country”.

Koeberg power station plays a key role in ensuring power supply to Cape Town. 

In a statement last week, Eskom said although it had experienced some delays, the process of returning Koeberg’s unit one to service “is intentionally thorough, as it is essential to ensure all the safety systems are functioning correctly”.

On Monday, Ramokgopa reiterated the importance of a diversified energy mix for the country in which nuclear power plays a part, noting that the Koeberg units each provide around 980 megawatts of electricity.

“The worst-case scenario is that the two units are out at the same time — [then] we are losing around 1 800MW,” he said.

He said the country still needed coal in the mix but added: “We can’t have an over reliance on [it]. We must accelerate onboarding of new generation capacity.”

Despite the challenges at Koeberg, Ramokgopa was optimistic about the country’s energy supply improvements.

He said the fact that the lights were staying on for longer, with reduced instances and stages of load-shedding in recent weeks, showed that it was possible to end the rolling blackouts altogether.

“We can see it in the numbers, outside of the fact that the lights are on, for most of our day …. We’re beginning to illustrate that it’s possible for us to come out of load-shedding, since we came into office,” Ramokgopa said.

He attributed the lower levels of load-shedding to increased generation efforts and the repair of units.

“It starts with one day or goes to twice a month, three months, six months and ultimately to 12 months. These are gradual steps,” he said.

In terms of available electricity, Ramokgopa said the week of 16 to 20 October had seen an average of 29 400MW, with availability reaching 30 000MW on Thursday and Friday, which he called “significant improvements”. By comparison, availability was 27 410MW in May.

He said, overall, the summer assessment was better than expected.

“When Eskom did its summer outlook, it anticipated losses would be at about 14 500MW; we are 1 500MW better. That is exceptional improvement from the team,” he said.

He added that the use of open-cycle gas turbines was limited to peak times, helping Eskom balance its books, given that the diesel used to run these is expensive. Eric Shunmagum, a senior manager in generation at Eskom, concurred. 

Ramokgopa said certain areas needed attention, such as power stations which experienced partial load losses. He singled out Matimba, in Limpopo, which at times lost megawatts “because of ambient temperature” and said Kendal and Kriel, in Mpumalanga, needed urgent attention because of their emission levels.

Overall, the minister was optimistic that new generation efforts were “bearing fruit”.

There had been progress on the solar energy front, with roof solar capacity almost doubling to 4 500MW. He said authorities were exploring ways of getting this onto the national grid, and were also looking into incentives for solar PV rollouts. Incentives must be extended to batteries and inventors, he added.

“The current system excludes the poor and we want more solar rooftops,” Ramokgopa said.

He said the framework for wheeling, a method of sharing electricity, had been completed and that power producers would use the infrastructure of Eskom and municipalities. 

“Someone creates power and moves it to the grid — you pay a fee for this infrastructure. Think of it like a highway — you pay an onboarding fee to use the infrastructure. Charges will be regulated; we introduce certainty for what wheeling can do,” he said.