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Brace for festive season power cuts

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While Stage 2 load shedding is expected every day this December, experts have not ruled out higher stages after Eskom suddenly plunged the nation into Stage 6 rolling blackouts at the weekend.

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WHILE Stage 2 load shedding is expected every day this December, experts have not ruled out higher stages after Eskom suddenly plunged the nation into Stage 6 rolling blackouts at the weekend.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa briefed the media on electricity generation performance on Sunday, following the implementation of Stage 6 load shedding on Friday.

He said this was due to the loss of five generating units in the span of 24 hours, resulting in a shortage of generation capacity as well as the need to replenish emergency reserves.

“We are in a situation where Stage 6 is an unwelcome extraordinary event. It significantly disrupts the lives of people, industry, and undermines the ability of the country to recover and keep people into jobs. (There were) two major reasons, the first one, we are depleting our emergency reserves at a speed. We made a determination to replace the emergency reserves. The second reason was that there was a spike in demand.”

Eskom also said on Sunday that Stages 3 and 4 load shedding were expected for the rest of the week. This was because the past few days had allowed the replenishment of the emergency reserves at its pumped storage and open-cycle gas turbine (OCGT) power stations.

“Due to this improvement, load shedding will be reduced to Stage 4 from 12pm midday until 5am on Monday. Thereafter, Stage 3 load shedding will be implemented from 5am until 4pm on Monday, followed by Stage 4 load shedding from 4pm until 5am on Tuesday.

“This pattern of implementing Stage 3 load shedding in the morning and Stage 4 load shedding in the evening will be repeated daily until Thursday.

“Eskom will closely monitor the power system and communicate any changes to load shedding should it be required.”

Unplanned outages were currently at 15,386 megawatt of generating capacity, while the capacity out of service for planned maintenance was 5,617MW.

About 2,500MW of generating capacity was anticipated to return to service by Tuesday evening. Eskom’s load forecast for the evening peak demand was 25,989MW.

About the December outlook, Eskom generation group executive Eric Shunmagum said: “In terms of plans, from 12 we’ll move to Stage 4, from Monday onwards until Friday, December 1. We plan to switch from Stage 3 during the day and for evening to Stage 4. As we move into Saturday, December 2, we’ll get some reprieve, we’re planning no load shedding during the day, from Saturday and Sunday and then we’ll do Stage 2 in the evening to help in building up the reserves.”

Energy expert Lungile Mashele said: “The current load shedding is a function of the following: the desperate need for ramping capacity, especially to meet the evening peak. Eskom is also burning a lot of diesel to meet the dispatchability and flexibility the system currently requires. The second is ambient temperatures. Basically, ambient temperatures affect plant performance. In extremely hot ambient temperatures, units are more susceptible to breakdowns. The big impact is the cooling system that gets affected and will reduce output. It affects the efficiency of the cooling system.

“The current heatwave, especially in the lowveld, has a dire impact on the Eskom coal fleet. We need to remember that we have entered an El Niño season characterised by higher temperatures, high humidity and reduced rainfall.

This will affect Eskom for the foreseeable future. Higher stages of load shedding cannot be ruled out as Eskom grapples with uncharacteristic increased demand (29GW), increased unplanned outages (15GW), high variance in the coal fleet (4GW).

“The Eskom outlook shows load shedding every day, nothing will change this December. Bar a few days where demand may drop, eg Christmas and midday load shedding may be suspended. There’s then a resultant decline in electrical output, meaning less power on the grid.”

Energy activist Peter Becker added: “One worrying thing is that Eskom has announced they will take unit 2 of Koeberg off-line in the near future for a prolonged outage to attempt to refurbish it in the hope of receiving permission for a life extension from the nuclear regulator in July 2024.

“If they do so, it will immediately add one more stage of load shedding.

Even if they do get that permission, Koeberg will only be back in full operation in 2025 at the very earliest, and by that time other new capacity would have come online.”

This comes as Karpowership SA welcomed a second environmental authorisation (EA) for its Saldanha Bay project granted by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) in what it said represented yet another substantial step in bringing power to the grid via the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP).

Following the recent environmental authorisation from DFFE for the 450MW Richards Bay project, this decision was expected to enable Karpowership SA to provide an additional 320MW from Saldanha Bay.

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