The boiler tube failures that Electricity Minister Kgosientso Ramokgopa blamed for the recent bout of severe power cuts, reaching Stage 6 at the weekend, were preventable, according to civil nuclear engineer Hugo Kruger.
“It’s (the current load shedding) due to not handling the control parameters properly, it is not due to the ageing of the plant. It tells me that Eskom’s entire reliability maintenance and boiler tube prevention programme collapsed,” he said on Sunday.
In a media briefing, Ramokgopa said there had been nine units failing simultaneously due to boiler tube leaks, which contributed to a loss of 4 400MW in a space of two days and the higher stages of load shedding.
“We are expecting to return these units by Wednesday. By Tuesday we’re going to see significant reduction going back to those levels levels 4, 3, 2 and 1 and also periodically not having no load shedding,” he said.
The remarks came at a time when South Africans were frustrated that the severe load shedding stage happened hours after President Cyril Ramaphosa told the country during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday that the “worst is behind us and the end of load shedding is finally within reach”.
Public Enterprises Deputy Minister Obed Bapela also told reporters ahead of Sona that Stage 3 would be the highest to be implemented until power cuts would be history by 2025.
Coming to his bosses’ defence, Ramakgopa said Ramaphosa was also in the dark about the sudden crisis at the time of his speech.
Ramokgopa said Stage 6 was not a common occurrence.
“You don’t have to believe me. Relative to the same period last year and if there’s an improvement, the lights are on most of the time, it means that the team are moving in the right direction.
We have outperformed, if you like, the summer plan and that’s why the president is saying that we are ahead of the curve. We can see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Eskom said five generating units (50%) were taken out of service due to boiler tube leaks, resulting in insufficient generation capacity.
“Additionally, the delay in returning three units from planned maintenance also contributed to inadequate generation capacity and increased reliance on emergency reserves. The need to replenish the emergency reserves and inadequate generation capacity necessitated the implementation of Stage 6 load shedding until further notice. An update on the power system’s status will be provided on Sunday afternoon,” Eskom said.
Unplanned outages were at 17 595MW of generating capacity, while the capacity out of service for planned maintenance was 6 885MW.
By Sunday, Eskom had successfully replenished its pumped storage dam levels and brought back some generation units to service over the past 48 hours.
“This enabled the reduction of load shedding to Stage 5 from 12 midday until further notice. “Eskom will closely monitor the power system and communicate any changes to load shedding should it be required. Eskom power station general managers and their teams continue to work diligently to ensure that a total of 3 200MW is returned to service by Wednesday evening.
Eskom’s evening peak demand tonight is 25 290MW.”
University of Stellenbosch School of Public Leadership Professor Mark Swilling said load shedding could end by 2025 if there was a commitment “to bring renewables online as quickly as possible”.
“It can be built very quickly. Come in on time, on budget. That’s the best way to bring new generation capacity on to the grid as quickly as possible.
“There is a large amount of renewables in the pipeline that can be connected during 2024. The problem is the grid is constrained.
Large parts of the grid are at maximum capacity,” he said.