ESKOM has decided to rope in veteran engineers to mentor and upskill its power station managers in a bid to avert prevalent, unplanned breakdowns at its ageing coal-fired power stations.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan announced this intervention on Friday during the presentation of his Budget Vote for the 2022/23 financial year in Parliament.
This comes on the heels of the sudden resignation of group executive for generation, Phillip Dukashe, early this month after a year in the job and 26 years at Eskom, citing personal reasons.
Gordhan said it was no secret that Eskom did not have the necessary human capital for the maintenance of its current fleet of power stations.
The minister said Eskom was taking urgent steps to improve the performance of generation, including oversight meetings to hold power station management accountable for performance and setting up of war rooms at selected power stations.
He said a lack of engineering and technical skills plus experience in Eskom remained a significant challenge, and Eskom has introduced a new training programme at its Academy of Learning to upgrade skills.
“A skills mentoring programme using highly experienced power station managers has been launched. This team will be deployed to power stations where load losses are particularly severe,” Gordhan said.
Eskom’s newly-built Kusile and Medupi power stations have been partly very problematic in electricity generation over a number of breakdowns due to design flaws of the station’s units.
In 2020, Eskom was slammed for considering recruiting a group of 60 retired engineers who had volunteered their skills to boost its capacity in order to maintain its power stations.
Gordhan’s comments came on the back of Eskom on Friday announcing yet further load-shedding for the weekend due to the continued shortage of generation capacity.
Eskom implemented Stage 2 load-shedding throughout the weekend after losing 15 534MW of capacity to breakdowns while 3 405MW was on planned maintenance.
The ongoing energy crisis in South Africa, characterised by crippling power cuts, has been ongoing for 14 years, with no end in sight due to a number of reasons, including: Eskom’s generation significantly under-performing with the Energy Availability Factor currently languishing at 58% for the year-to-date as opposed to the target of 75% set out in the Integrated Resource Plan 2019.
The power utility has been burning millions of rand per day on diesel to keep the lights on due to low plant availability, with load-sheding already implemented for 32 days from January 1 to May 10 this year.
Gordhan said Eskom estimated that it needed 4 000 – 6 000 MW of additional capacity immediately if it was to properly maintain its power stations.
“This will allow it to take units off-line for repair while maintaining a supply of electricity,” he said.
“Bid Windows 5 and 6, as well as the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, will, at best, deliver an effective 3 000MW which alone will not create the buffer needed.
“The President’s announcement of the lifting of licensing restrictions on own-generation to 100MW will undoubtedly assist the position. However, red-tape is holding up the development of these projects.”
Meanwhile, Gordhan said Eskom has been able to achieve a significant improvement in its earnings for the 2022 financial year, with early indications showing an improvement of more than 85% compared to the 2021 financial results.
He said this improvement was driven by the general recovery in energy consumption, revenue improvement supported by the energy regulator’s standard tariff increase of 15.06% and cost control saving of about 99.5% of the R20bn target for the year.
“Eskom has achieved savings of over R50bn since inception of the program in the 2019/2020 financial year,” he said.
“A further reduction in debt to R396bn, from R401bn, was also achieved. However, Eskom’s liquidity issues relate to specific areas, which need urgent attention.”
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE