Journalists attending state power producer Eskom’s quarterly update of the electricity system this morning were given a very clear message to take back to their newsrooms: loadshedding is here to stay.
Eskom’s Acting CEO Brian Molofe briefed the media on Wednesday, saying that it will “endeavour to do maintenance with minimum loadshedding.” In the same breathe, he added that Eskom has ageing and volatile plants, and during the cold weather the demand for electricity increase, which puts more strain on an already constrained system.
While loadshedding for the next few months was the focus of the briefing, Molefe stressed a recurring theme: planned maintenance. For this winter, he detailed that Eskom will be doing three-times as much maintenance as before, which translates to about 5 500MW of capacity likely to be taken off the grid at any one time for maintenance.
“We will make every effort to reduce unplanned maintenance,” Molefe said, “But even when there is loadshedding, 96% of the country still has power. It’s only 4% of the country that is cut off.”
Molefe was also quick to allay fears of a total blackout in South Africa, saying that it is almost impossible for it to happen.
“There is no prospect of a total blackout, and the possibility is virtually non-existent. It is impossible with what we have today – so that is out of the question.”
But one thing is for sure, and that is loadshedding will be a reality for South Africans for at least another two years.
“Expect some form of loadshedding for the next 18 to 24 months. But we will try to minimise it. We will continue to inform the public of what is going on. As far as possible, we will avoid loadshedding during the day to minimise the impact on businesses,” Molefe said.
Molefe also confirmed that the stages for loadshedding have been adjusted in terms of when it is implemented, as implemented in April. Stage 1 and Stage 2 kicks in when there is a generating shortfall of 1 000MW and 2 000MW, respectively. But Stage 3’s loadshedding shortfall has been reduced from 4 000MW to 3 000MW.
Molefe also detailed in order for Eskom to keep the lights on during the 5 500MW planned maintenance, it needs to keep it under 7 000MW.
That leaves Eskom with only 1 500MW of breathing room should something go wrong.
With that said, Eskom’s generating capabilities has improved for the first six months of the year, at least according to Molefe.
“Eskom’s generating performance has been better than expected for the first half of the year,” he said, “Open Cylinder Gas Turbines (OCGT) has been used extensively to combat loadshedding, with the highest usage thereof being in May.”
Those OCGT has cost Eskom R12 billion so far – which Molefe says has cost the country far less than allowing even more power outages.
“I think the R12 billion to minimise loadshedding is nothing compared to not having the additional 2 000MW from the turbines,” he said.