Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - Energy experts yesterday said that Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan and Eskom management had thrown the utility’s systems operator, Bernard Magoro, under the bus by publicly committing that load shedding would not exceed stage one in the next five months.

This is as data from Statistics South Africa showed that the power producer’s sales volumes were coming down - adding further pressure to its precarious financial position.

Data from the stats agency said electricity distribution decreased by 1percent year-on-year in February, while adjusted electricity distribution decreased by 1.2percent month-on-month in February.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland said electricity consumption had been on the decline for a number of years and was at its lowest in years, and this had hurt Eskom sales volumes. Gordhan said Eskom aimed to stick to no load shedding this winter or to a maximum of stage one should the need arise.

Yelland said Mogoro was dealt a heavy hand as he could not guarantee that he would limit load shedding to just 1000 megawatts (MW) without compromising the national grid.

“Nobody knows the levels of unplanned blackouts. A classic example are the past few weeks when the utility experienced numerous boiler tube leaks and the same time and Cyclone Idai took off more than a 1000KW off the grid. This saw Eskom going to stage four load shedding to avoid system shutdown,” Yelland said.

“Mogoro must not be happy with the blanket undertaking by the government to limit any load shedding to stage one as he is in no position to comply. Gordhan’s undertaking is all talk, but no engineering.”

Mogoro said on Wednesday that Eskom had implemented stage four in March as 13000MW of power were lost due to unplanned production interruptions, which usually took under 10 000MW off the grid.

The power utility also had 16 boiler tube leaks in 10 days, which it said normally amounted to 10 to 13 a month. Cylcone Idai also saw 1200KW of power lost from Cohora Bassa while depleted diesel levels and low water levels in Eskom hydro also contributed.

Mogoro insisted that load shedding was a last resort lever to protect the transmission system.

Eskom said it would achieve its plans to commercialise Kriel Unit 2 by April 18, which would bring 475MW on the grid, while Matla Unit 5 was expected to add 575MW by mid-May. Medupi 2 and Kusile were expected to add a combined 12000MW and Eskom said efforts were being made to commercialise Kusile 3. Eskom said should their plans materialise - unplanned production interruptions would be under 9500MW in the next five months.

Energy expert Ted Blom said Eskom’s plans were dangerous talk, which risked undermining the integrity on the national grid.

“Load-shedding is solely determined by the system. If we need to go above stage one and as high as stage five to protect the system, that’s what a responsible systems operator would do. Eskom’s blueprint has moved the chances of a total grid meltdown up by at least 30percent,” Blom said.