/ 11 February 2024

Ramokgopa: High levels of load-shedding to last until Wednesday

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa Briefing
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa during a media briefing on 9 January 2024. Image: GCIS

Escalated load-shedding is likely to remain in force until Wednesday after boiler tube leaks took nine generating units out of service, sending the country into stage six blackouts on Friday night.

Speaking at a briefing on Sunday, electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said that 4 400 megawatts of power generation went offline from Wednesday until Friday last week because of these boiler tube leaks. At the same time, renewable generation was also lower than anticipated because of “climatic conditions”.

“Essentially, we had nine units that contributed to this 4 400MW over a space of over two days,” Ramokgopa said. “It’s a cluster of these units failing simultaneously. A lot of these units are big units … It’s like four stages of load-shedding essentially imposed on us as a result of these boiler tube leaks. Juxtapose this with the fact that our planned maintenance is still at 7 000MW.” 

Two of the units had since been returned to service and “we expect the last of these units that failed on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday to return by Wednesday.”

By Tuesday, South Africans will see a significant reduction in load-shedding, “going back to levels four, three, two and one and also periodically not having load-shedding starting Wednesday, going forward.”

Boiler tube leaks major concern

For now, the situation could arise that “we go a stage lower, perhaps stage five just to manage the reserve – the dam levels – but for purposes of getting to those levels of stage four or lower, we are projecting that we will be there by Wednesday,” he said.

Eskom’s management has identified boiler tube leaks as a major area of concern that undermines the availability of its generation units. The power utility is now working directly with the original equipment manufacturers to repair the equipment “as they are the people who know the DNA of these units”, he said.

As part of Eskom’s planned maintenance, a significant portion of the units are now expected to return online towards the beginning and end of March “so we will be moving from levels of 7 000MW to lower levels of about 6 000MW, 5 000MW.”

This is where South Africans would see significant improvement in the intensity of load-shedding, Ramokgopa said. “We expect that there could be periods during the day when you don’t have load-shedding. Of course, some units have promised to return and they have not returned on time,” he said, adding that this remains a particular focus and concern for Eskom’s management.

‘Inherent risk’

Stage six, he said, was an “outlier” with November being the last time it was imposed on the country. Before then, stage six was a “common occurrence in our quest to manage the integrity of the grid [and] protect the grid. 

“But since November, one of the things that we’ve succeeded in doing is to ensure that we don’t get to stage six. You are ramping up planned maintenance so it means that you are undermining the buffer that is available. 

“If you had to have a situation where there is a cluster of units that are failing, your big units failing, then you don’t have room, all that you have is the intensification of load-shedding. We accepted that to be an inherent risk but we also appreciated that there would be returns with regards to this approach.”

Ramokgopa said that because of the fiscal support Eskom has received from the national treasury, “it’s important that we do the right thing, that we’re able to improve the health and performance of these units, we need to invest in them  … there’s short-term pain and long-term gain.” 

This is because once these units return from planned maintenance, they are healthier and approximate their design capacity. “I have said to the country, in our effort to resolve load-shedding, we are not going to cut corners … 

“What is important is that we do things the right way so that we are able to ensure that we regain these megawatts that have been lost over a period of time as a result of our failure to concentrate on maintenance and accept that as part of that strategy, we are opening ourselves to an inherent risk.”

Ramogkopa said when a cluster of units fails, it is likely that load-shedding will intensify and that is why the country is experiencing high levels of load-shedding.

‘Being meticulous’

To fix the electricity grid, “we need to be very meticulous and invested in the correct procedure,” he said. 

“There’s going to be setbacks and of course from Friday to today, we’ve been experiencing that setback but we’ll recover … As we go over a period of time, these setbacks will essentially become smaller and smaller and the intensity of load-shedding reduces.”

Ramakgopa noted that measuring the performance of his team is “easy” by “the amount of hours that your lights are on during this period relative to the same period last year. “If there’s an improvement, it means the lights are on most of the time. It means that the team is moving in the right direction.”