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Prepare for continued power cuts for the next five years

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South Africa should brace itself for a protracted period of intermittent power cuts for at least another five years as Eskom faces a severe electricity supply shortfall to the national grid.

South Africa should brace itself for a protracted period of intermittent power cuts for at least another five years as Eskom faces a severe electricity supply shortfall to the national grid. File image. Picture Ian Landsberg

JOHANNESBURG – SOUTH Africa should brace itself for a protracted period of intermittent power cuts for at least another five years as Eskom faces a severe electricity supply shortfall to the national grid.

Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter said on Monday that there would be continued electricity supply shortfall of approximately 4 000 megawatts over the next five years.

De Ruyter said the enormity of the task of reducing loadshedding could not be overstated as the growth of the economy also put further strain on the unreliable grid.

“What we need in South Africa is additional new generation capacity to the grid, and we need that sooner rather than later,” De Ruyter said.

“That shortfall may be larger if the economy grows and more demand is created, hence we want to accelerate the implementation of additional generation capacity.

“Therefore, we believe that bringing forward new generation capacity as soon as possible will be positive for the economy and avoid the downside risk of further shortfalls.”

Eskom has already implemented 43 days of loadshedding from April to date compared to 46 days during the financial year ended in March last year.

The power utility on Monday extended loadshedding to Wednesday following the loss of further generation capacity and to replenish emergency generation reserves.

It suffered further breakdowns at five power stations during the weekend, putting further strain on the generation capacity.

However, De Ruyter said Eskom had ramped-up planned maintenance of ageing coal-fired powerplants to between 5 500MW and 7 000MW, or approximately 12 percent of its total capacity.

He said Eskom was still guiding for the completion of the first part of its reliability maintenance programme by end of April and the competition of second part by September, if all goes well in project execution.

“By then we should see a reduction in loadshedding, not elimination, but the risk will be further reduced by September,” he said.

“But again to stress that maintenance in and of itself will not be a panacea to solve loadshedding going forward.”

“We will continue to do our best to strike the right balance between plant maintenance, while new capacity is brought on to the grid.”

When Eskom launched the current so-called “philosophy maintenance” programme, it did highlight the risk of loadshedding.

But that was before the Covid-19 lockdown disrupted progress.

Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said the unreliability of the ageing fleet had an uncertainty of about 6 000MW of capacity at any given time.

Oberholzer said that this would remain until the reliability maintenance programme was able to address the historical maintenance backlog.

“The power system remains vulnerable and volatile with the risk of loadshedding significantly reduced after the completion of the reliability maintenance by September,” Oberholzer said.

“Up until now we have made quite a significant dent in reliability maintenance, the risk unfortunately of loadshedding will remain.”

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