Eskom, which resorted to load shedding Stage 6 early yesterday morning, faces an emergency to fix broken coal plants and replenish diesel and pumped storage water emergency capacity, and will go to the market, possibly this week, to source up to 1 000MW of existing capacity.
This was according to Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter, who said in a briefing yesterday that the additional 1 000MW would likely be sourced from companies who already have their own installed capacity, such as some mining groups and Sappi.
He said the intention was to bring the capacity online as quickly as possible, based on the price of Eskom’s most expensive generation, the price of electricity generated by diesel generation. The procurement of new generation capacity is the competency of the government.
Eskom’s chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer, said the outlook for electricity generation for the rest of this week was uncertain, taking into account also that some 15 percent of the utility’s total generation capacity, including the emergency capacity, would remain out on planned maintenance.
He said load shedding Stage 6 would continue at least until today, to ensure that some of the emergency pumped storage capacity was filled, although it may take a few days this week to replenish the gas turbines as diesel needed to be transported by road to the gas turbines.
He said the gas turbines and pumped storage capacity facilities had been operating flat-out for the past few days and their stocks of diesel and water had run dangerously low.
De Ruyter said having emergency power generating capacity available at short notice was essential to maintain the integrity of the electricity grid, and if they did not do Stage 6 load shedding at this juncture this capacity might run out and substantially increase the risk of a full blackout.
He said there was, by yesterday, no imminent risk of a total blackout.
Oberholzer said Eskom had gone on Stage 5 load shedding on Saturday after seven coal generation units broke down, resulting in the cut-off of 3 000MW to the grid, and Eskom was unable to shut down the emergency generation capacity that had been running from Friday, when five coal generation units broke down on that day, and diesel levels were already very low at that point.
There were also financial considerations to the current crisis, as Eskom had already spent over R8 billion on diesel, and this might well double before the end of the financial year, well ahead of budget, if current trends persist, while its bill on fuel oil was also more than budget.
He said 45 coal generation units had broken down for various reasons last week, and 38 units had been brought back online through repairs. He said hopefully 18 coal generation units were expected to come back on line within five to six days, adding 9 000MW to the grid, if there were no more breakages.
He said Koeberg’s Unit 2 nuclear generation equipment was still undergoing testing by French group Fromatome, and although initial indications were positive that the maintenance would allow uninterrupted power supply in future, it would only begin adding its capacity to the grid once those tests were properly concluded.
He said Koeberg’s Unit 1 generator had been supplying 900MW to the grid uninterrupted for 300 days and its maintenance shutdown scheduled for December remained on track.
Oberholzer said Eskom’s coal plant fleet was operating at 90 percent of its capacity when, according to industry benchmarks given the age of the plants, it should be running at 65 percent of capacity.
De Ruyter said it was critical to bring more generation capacity on stream.
Last Thursday, Eskom said it intended to pursue a 32.02 percent tariff hike by 2024. ActionSA said it was inconceivable that the utility was asking the taxpayer to foot the bill for almost three decades of mismanagement of the utility.
The DA yesterday called for the immediate return of President Cyril Ramaphosa to South Africa to address the worsening electricity crisis, and said in a statement that a “ring-fenced state of disaster around Eskom” should be declared.