/ 11 May 2023

Eskom’s woes continue to pile up

Eskom Pylon
Plunder: Seven pylons collapsed when they were looted in April, plunging parts of the Pretoria area into darkness. Sabotage and theft exacerbate the country’s electricity supply crisis. Photo: Michele Spatari/AFP/Getty Images

Fail after fail. That sums up Eskom for me. 

The power utility this week plunged the country into stage six load-shedding because additional units failed and other units did not return after they broke down.

In a statement, the utility said the units at Duvha, Medupi and Lethabo power stations returned to service. But at the same time, generating units at Medupi, Majuba and Tutuka power stations experienced breakdowns. 

There were delays in units returning to service for six other stations. In some cases that led to a whopping eight to 12 hours of no electricity. 

On Tuesday, Eskom tweeted that it was shedding 6 376 megawatts (stage six) and there was load curtailment stage four, which is when they ask big businesses such as smelters to reduce electricity usage. Shedding between 6 000 and 7 000 megawatts means stage seven. 

Who knows how many megawatts are shed with load curtailment? This may mean we were in stage eight. 

There are also reports of people having extended power cuts because the units take time to come back online after load-shedding has been implemented. 

City Power Johannesburg was battling to keep its head above water this week. The state-owned utility, wholly owned by the City of Johannesburg, said it was receiving more than the normal number of calls about electricity not being restored or breakdowns. It announced that it was dealing with more than 2 200 calls about problems with electricity supply because of wet weather, load-shedding, theft and vandalism. 

Other parts of the country also had cold, wet weather, adding to the misery people are experiencing. 

City Power also echoed calls from Eskom for users to unplug big appliances such as geysers to ease pressure on the grid.  

Eyewitness News reported that City Power said “it was facing too many adverse effects that were impairing its ability to constantly supply customers”. 

Sounds like something I might try in the future: “Sorry boss, I can’t do my job today, I’m facing too many adverse effects.”

On social media, people said their times without electricity were longer than the allotted load-shedding periods. It’s usually along the lines of: “Our times for load-shedding were between so and so, why do we still not have power? And the power is set to go off again in a few hours.”

The town of Mahikeng in the North West has been without power for 11 days after a substation exploded. 

The Mimosa substation blew at the end of April with the sentiment being that it happened  because the infrastructure is old, and because of theft and vandalism. Businesses on the ground barely survived the time without power. There are also reports that crime soared in parts of Mahikeng. 

Electricity has since been restored in parts of the town.

Despite these problems, Eskom gave 347 megawatts to Botswana, which was dealing with a country-wide blackout that struck at midnight on Monday because of a “grid disturbance”. 

That’s not enough to prevent one stage of load-shedding (1 000 megawatts a stage) but still, the thought of giving another country power is hard to swallow.

Eskom says our load-shedding is in no way linked to Botswana’s blackout. It also said that it gives power to Botswana indirectly through Zimbabwe. News 24 reported that Eskom supplies Zimbabwe with 100 megawatts, and some of this is exported to Botswana. Botswana also gets power from other Southern African countries such as Zambia through Eskom’s transmission network.

Eskom is also battling to deal with security, so much so that President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday sent 880 soldiers to protect Eskom power stations for six months at a cost of more than R146  million. 

The soldiers are meant to deter theft, sabotage and vandalism among other things. 

Energy researchers and analysts criticised the decision, in particular because the soldiers are not allowed inside the facilities, which means they won’t be able to prevent crimes within the stations. 

Eskom regularly indicates that the crime and corruption at facilities are a reason for load-shedding.

This week, we also reported that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and his department lodged an urgent appeal against a Pretoria high court judgment that exempts public health facilities, schools and police stations from load-shedding. 

He is saying that this is necessary to keep the grid stable. 

Let’s stop for one second and think about what that means. They are fighting against keeping the power on in places like schools, hospitals and police stations. 

There’s one word for this, and it is failure.