Load shedding: ‘sabotage cannot be ruled out’

Eskom says boilertube leaks at nine units were behind the failures. Picture: Bloomberg

Eskom says boilertube leaks at nine units were behind the failures. Picture: Bloomberg

Published Feb 13, 2024


Sabotage cannot be ruled out for the nation suddenly being thrown into stages 5 and 6 load shedding, when Kusile and Medupi are new power stations but experience the most breakdowns in the world, an expert says.

This comes after ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula came under fire for citing sabotage as the reason for higher stages of load shedding, just as President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the worst was behind the country during his State of the Nation Address.

“Stage 6 load shedding clear sabotage. Strong extra security measures are needed,” Mbalula posted on social media.

At an energy action plan briefing on Sunday, when asked if there were security issues, Eskom Head of Generation, Bheki Nxumalo, said investigations within the coal space were ongoing.

“The security cluster is within the stations. We are doing investigations within our coal space everywhere. So these are ongoing things to look for intelligence.

“But currently you’ve seen it in the biggest changes at Medupi and a series of pipe leaks that also happened between Thursday and Friday as well. So there are ongoing investigations and security scans that we are undertaking all the time,” Nxumalo said.

According to Eskom, boilertube leaks at nine units were behind the failures.

Eskom on Monday said five generating units had been returned which enabled the reduction of load shedding alternating between Stage 3 and 4. Unplanned outages have reduced to 14 579MW of generating capacity, while the capacity out of service for planned maintenance is at 7 316MW, Eskom said.

As for Mbalula’s comments, DA MP Samantha Graham-Maré said Mbalula’s claims were a “clumsy attempt to shift blame on the escalation of load shedding to stage 6”.

However Unisa political science professor, Everisto Benyera, said things were not adding up because the power stations were relatively new. “It does not make sense. We have all (the) ingredients to make our power stations work. If you go to Russia, Ukraine their power stations are 50 years older than Kusile and Medupi.

“Kusile and Medupi are the newest but are experiencing the most breakdowns in the world if you do a global comparison.

“That points to either unethical behaviour, or complicitness in the maintenance and running of these power stations. It could be that some people benefit from the ensuing darkness. The president said load shedding would be a thing of the past, and immediately there’s a breakdown.

“These steam boilers are the newest. A 55% generation capacity at a power station that is brand new can only point to human hand.

“We have all the engineers, we have the wind, the land, the sunshine. Even if privatisation is not part of the ANC agenda, it could be part of the agenda of the elites,” Benyera said.

University of Johannesburg Energy Studies professor, Kristy Langerman, said it was possible that sabotage was one of the contributing factors. “I'd say (sabotage is) one of many factors, unlikely the biggest factor.

“We know our coal units are unreliable and there are delays getting new renewable capacity online.

“Medupi and Kusile (also had) delays in getting them online and they are big units. With all unplanned maintenance the system is just a bit unpredictable, I don't think it is part of a long term trend, I think it is just bad timing.

“Looking at the figures, we (are) actually in a better position this time than we were last year. Two of Kusile’s units were brought back, so we have more capacity available. (Eskom is) also doing more planned maintenance. Once they start getting more done, units should become more reliable with fewer (breakdowns).

“The government says they've turned the corner. I do think they're right if you're looking at coal capacity available on the system and Eskom has upped their planned maintenance.”

Civil nuclear engineer Hugo Kruger said: “It's incompetent management. Eskom does not follow riskbased strategy. Older boilers (not Medupi and Kusile) aren't made to be put on and off and they have to slowly increase the heat rate. Metals can overheat, even on the waterside.

Mills can make the coal too rough, late combustion, metal on the steam side (can) overheat.” Eskom said it would respond to further questions on the issue of sabotage in due course.

Cape Times