Home South African Eskom rattling begging bowl again, asking for R500 billion

Eskom rattling begging bowl again, asking for R500 billion

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It’s been 14 years since the onset of load shedding in South Africa, yet the country finds itself still facing the same problem.

File image

NEARLY 14 years on, Eskom is still struggling to keep the lights on and now the embattled utility is once again rattling its begging bowl, asking for R500 billion, some of which will help it to reduce its carbon footprint and transition to cleaner and greener energy.

South Africa is still crippled by rolling power cuts with some residents experiencing power outages of up to three days.

Eskom’s maintenance budget has a R5 billion deficit, which makes it difficult to maintain its fleet of power stations, some of which are more than 40 years old.

Last week, Eskom went from implementing load shedding Stage 2 to Stage 4 following the loss of several generation units at a number of coal-powered stations. As of Friday, at least 13,753 megawatts capacity was still unavailable to power the national grid. In addition, 4 855MW was unavailable for planned maintenance.

The utility suspended load shedding after six days on Friday night and promised to keep the lights on during the coming municipal election week.

At a briefing on the country’s power supply, Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said the utility was faced with three main challenges – old units being overworked to meet demand, no new additional capacity to allow for property maintenance, and a lack of experienced personnel.

He said that Eskom needed R11b annually to maintain its 80 generation units, but they only received R6b this year.

In announcing the addition of nearly 2,600MW to the grid from 25 preferred bidders from the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme this week, Minister of Energy Gwede Mantashe blamed load shedding on Eskom’s management’s inability to run its plants efficiently.

“The load shedding we are having is not because of less connected capacity. It is the unavailability of generation capacity, which means, that we are not efficient in running existing capacity.”

South Africa’s power supply remains largely dependent on expensive and ageing coal-powered stations. Graphic: Wade Geduldt / African News Agency (ANA)

On average, the lifespan of the country’s power stations is 30 years, but some old stations have since been extended to run for 60 years. Even mothballed stations have had to be brought back to life. The recommissioning was touted as a first-of-its-kind in the world, as the country’s energy needs had been overlooked.

In an interview with Enlit Africa this week, Eskom’s chief executive, André de Ruyter, announced that it would require more than R500bn for the utility to undergo a “just energy transition”. De Ruyter also acknowledged Eskom’s contribution to carbon emissions ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

“We are responsible for about 25% of African carbon emissions; so, we are a very significant contributor to the carbon footprint of the continent,” he said.

“If we can show the way to a cleaner and greener energy future, I think there’s a real opportunity for us to demonstrate that.”

Energy experts weighed in on South Africa’s power crisis.

Independent energy analyst Andrew Kenny said Eskom should invest in nuclear energy.

“Coal power stations are polluting the environment with sulphur, nitrogen oxide and smoke – we shouldn’t build any more.”

Kenny added that if the country was to build a nuclear power station today, it would be operational before 2030.

“It is good to have renewable options, but wind and solar are useless for good electricity. They are unreliable,” he said.

“A good nuclear plant will last for 60 years and produce affordable and reliable electricity. Koeberg has done just fine.

He predicted “many blackouts for five to 10 years. It will continue until we can get nuclear power stations built.

“Medupi and Kusile power stations have crazy designs, are badly built and are way over budget.”

An assessment by Climate Transparency International showed that South Africa’s energy sector has the highest carbon intensity, because of its heavy reliance on coal.

The same report, written by UCT researcher Bryce McCall, showed that renewable energy only accounted for 7.6% of South Africa’s power generation in 2020.

“South Africa’s reliance on coal highlights the need for a carefully managed, just transition to cleaner energy sources,” McCall said.

Eskom currently runs 23 electricity plants comprising coal-fire, nuclear, hydro stations, pumped storage schemes, gas-fired stations and one wind farm.

Energy expert and editor of Energize magazine Roger Lilley said Eskom needed to decommission a few of its older plants.

“They should urgently complete construction on Kusile, and get Medupi up and running properly.”

While some plants like Matla and Majuba in Mpumalanga have been around since the 1980s, Medupi construction was completed in July this year. Kusile power station is only expected to be completed in 2024/25.

Lilley said the country has been too reliant on a single source of electricity.

“We need to move away from single-source energy efficiency and move towards a new generation from multiple sources within the private sector.”

He added: “We should have an energy mix from a range of energy sources. A balance of these forms should be available in the grid.

“We are going to need to increase our generation capacity. Introducing the private sector into this will be a better solution.”

Nuclear physicist Kelvin Keem said there was no need for an energy transition.

“South Africa is doing fine with coal and there is always room for improvement. South Africa has one of the most advanced modular reactor designs in the world.”

Keem’s solution for Eskom is to build small modular reactors (nuclear energy) that can be put on the coal sites.

“We must work with other countries to develop small modular reactors. We also need to build a big modular reactor,” he said.

MEC for Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier estimated that load shedding cost the economy R2b per day in 2020.

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