JOHANNESBURG - Heavy industry and intensive energy users are counting the costs of the country’s unplanned power cuts on their business operations after Eskom implemented stage 2 load shedding this week.
Eskom cut power supply since Wednesday - for the first time in more than six months - as generation succumbed to unplanned breakdowns at coal-fired power stations.
The struggling utility said the breakdowns, which exceeded 10 500 megawatts (MW), came as a result of a conveyor belt supplying coal to Medupi Power Station failing and five generating units and power stations in Mpumalanga experiencing leaks from boiler tubes.
Steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) confirmed that its operations were affected but said it was yet to measure the financial and operational impact.
"As one of the larger consumers of electricity in the country, ArcelorMittal South Africa can confirm that there was a significant impact on the business due to the unexpected and unscheduled load-shedding that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday," AMSA said.
"The company is still in the process of quantifying this impact."
Minerals Council spokesperson Alan Fine said the council had not surveyed each of their members on this specific occasion on the impact of the loadshedding.
Fine said Eskom usually required mining companies to reduce consumption by at least 20 percent during stage 2 load shedding.
"In response, most operations will choose to continue mining and instead implement the power savings through shutting down processing operations," he said.
Since 2014, the mining industry has been looking at ways to reduce its dependence on Eskom.
Sibanye-Stillwater for instance has beguin pursuing a 50MW phase solar photovoltaic project between the Driefontein and Kloof mining complexes on the West Rand as part of its medium- to-long term energy management strategy.
Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted said the strategy would continue to focus on ongoing improvements in the use of compressed air, pumping, ventilation and refrigeration, as well as the elimination of waste consumption, application of new technologies and footprint optimisation.
"For us specifically, we have contingency measures in place to reduce power usage by varying extents, in order to assist Eskom when it has issues with supply – these include rescheduling certain activities such as pumping and milling, to times when there is a reduction in demand," Wellsted said.
The South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) said the current interruptions was a clear symptom of Eskom fleet’s reduced energy availability factor (EAF).
SAWEA chief executive Ntombifuthi Ntuli said the country needed to procure new generation capacity in order to bring the EAF to healthy levels again.
"Our view is that this capacity needs to be replaced with an energy mix that takes into consideration the need to decarbonise the energy system at least cost," Ntuli said.
"Besides utility scale generation, the wind industry is geared to supply electricity directly to energy intensive users through signing private Power Purchase Agreement’s (PPAs).
"This would address a lot of the capacity challenges and ultimately avoid load-shedding, which prevents economic stability and growth."