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Tentative 100 days of load shedding ahead as Eskom battles infrastructure challenges

  • Apr 13, 2022

POWER utility Eskom yesterday warned that South Africa faced a worst-case scenario of up to 100 days of rotational load shedding over the winter period due to infrastructure uncertainties, while flagging that its operations in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) had been affected by the current floods.

This could have dire repercussions on South Africa’s tentative economic recovery. The post-Covid 19 pandemic rebound could be derailed if Eskom fails to manage its production capacity, as possible load shedding would likely impact on industries slowly gaining ground, including manufacturing, the automotive sector and food production.

Eskom’s National Control Manager, Gavin Hurford, said in a media briefing yesterday that the utility anticipated about 100 days of load shedding over the winter season, which would depend on grid capacity.

"We do not say it will be precisely 100 days; it could be far less than that, but we could lose between 12 to 15 000 megawatts in the worst circumstances. This is just based on uncertainty of the fleet, especially during evening peaks,“ he said.

Hurford said that Eskom bases its predictions on certain unplanned outage thresholds.

Eskom said while it anticipated no issues with coal stocks, even with the extended rainy season, systems were constrained.

Chief executive Andre de Ruyter said the floods in KZN were a major cause of infrastructural damage, and that the utility had yet to assess infrastructural issues, but could not as yet risk the safety of its workers and the general public.

According to reports, more than 200 millimetres of rain has fallen in the province over the past 48 hours, which has put increased strain on infrastructure, including that of Eskom.

Eskom, which has been trying to turn its business around, is always left on the back foot when it sheds power, having to spend billions on fuel to keep the lights on.

That is not cheap, as the cost of oil has spiked due to the Russian-Ukraine war, which has also caused South African and global inflation to rise.

Fitch Solutions last month warned that South Africa was vulnerable to oil price rises, with transport accounting for around 16 percent of the consumer price index, while Eskom has been using diesel-fuelled turbines as an emergency power-supply measure, and has warned that higher fuel prices could mean that it is unable to run the emergency units.

An economist, who declined to be named, yesterday said, "There is just no getting around it, the economy needs to run at full tilt, but if there is not going to be power when it’s needed, it will stall the recovery. There was optimism about an economic upsurge, but Eskom's announcement is a damp squib for growth.“

However, amid its gloomy outlook, Eskom yesterday also announced it had issued requests for proposals for renewable energy companies to operate off its land in the heartland of the coal belt. It said this would unlock at least 1 000 megawatts for starters, leading up to 5 000 MW at full capacity in the next 18 months as the beginning of projects to produce power could be instantly stapled onto the grid.

“This is the first-of-its-kind type of process that we are running; we anticipate that we will get some 1 000 MW as a consequence of this process,” De Ruyter said, indicating that the first new capacity could be introduced in about 18 to 24 months.

Eskom estimates the potential generation capacity for the different land parcels being made available to be 0.45MW/ha, and confirmed that high-level grid access capacity studies had been conducted for the different sites, which surround Majuba and Tutuka.

Under Eskom’s plan, the state-owned company will lease parcels of land in Mpumalanga – home to many of its coal-fired power stations – so that private power producers can build renewable energy capacity at these sites.

“The commercial process is based on auctioning suitable land at or near power stations for the development of renewable electricity generation sites, with the evaluation process favouring quick delivery of additional generation capacity to the system. This initiative is intended to allow investors accelerated access to our existing grid, and to enable investment in renewable energy next to our coal-fired power stations, to demonstrate our commitment to be part of the ‘just energy transition’ to renewables,” De Ruyter said.



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