Loadshedding appears to be with South Africans for the foreseeable future.

After a brief hiatus, Eskom had to once again implement loadshedding last week when generating capacity fell short. The problems at the utility persisted and worsened until ultimately, Stage 6 loadshedding had to be implemented on Monday.

The problems at Eskom are numerous but perhaps the biggest issue it has is a lack of maintenance. While it’s easy to say the utility should maintain its infrastructure, that would require taking capacity off of the grid and that isn’t always possible.

The reason this isn’t always possible is explained by Eskom’s chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer in an interview with Fin24.

“For at least ten years the approach has been to provide electricity at all costs. We can’t get way from the consequences of that, and we’re now faced with an unreliable, unpredictable national grid,” said Oberholzer.

The COO says the utility is sticking to its nine-point recovery plan as best it can but its problem is taking turbines and power stations out of commission for maintenance.

“Given the demand there simply isn’t any opportunity except to quickly take it out for a short period and then return it to service. We simply cannot do what we want and what is needed,” he adds.

It is a double-edged sword and as such Oberholzer has implored the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to allow competitors to contribute power to the grid in order to make up the shortfall.

“Both mineral resources and public enterprises need to ask us: ‘How can we help you to fill the energy gap?’ I’ve spoke to Minister Pravin Gordhan about the matter,” Oberholzer told Fin24.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy said on Tuesday that it commits to developing a plan to meet the electricity demand in the short-term.

“As part of efforts to ensure security of electricity supply for the country, the Minister has considered short and medium-term interventions to both the electricity and energy challenges facing the country,” the department wrote in a media statement.

These interventions include:

  • Publication of the Request For Information. The lead time for generation projects under normal circumstances is anything from 36 months onwards. The RFI will enable the Department to have a sense of immediate generation options available (3 to 12 months) to help fill the short-term gap. This will then enable the Department to design an appropriate intervention in the immediate term.
  • Promulgate Section 34 determinations
  • IPPs to bring Window 4 capacity on stream earlier
  • Drive for the use of LPG gas

While it’s good to see action, for now those actions remain as words. We will be waiting in anticipation over the coming weeks as Eskom and government tackle the energy crisis that plagues the country.