Minister of Electricity Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa says power utility Eskom is in a better position now than it was last year.
Speaking to the media after he conducted an inspection at Koeberg power plant in Cape Town on Tuesday, Ramokgopa said Eskom’s Unplanned Capability Loss Factor (UCLF) for the summer was lower than they had planned for and expected, resulting in lower stages of load shedding. UCLF measures the lost energy due to unplanned breakdowns.
He added that Eskom was also becoming less reliant on diesel. However energy experts are not convinced about the performance of the grid.
Ramokgopa said that their summer plan for UCLF was expected to be about 14 500MW (megawatts).
“We have actually been averaging just above 12 000MW, which is lower than planned. We were expecting around stage 4 load shedding but because we were below 14 500MW, we have had between stage 1 and stage 3 load shedding.
“We are starting to rely less and less on diesel. We are placing less reliance on diesel on many occasions such as morning peak and evening peak; we are not running our Open-Cycle Gas Turbines as much which is good as they are expensive to run.”
Ramokgopa added that by the end of February there will be a reduction in the planned maintenance.
“Our planned maintenance has been averaging around 8 000MW and it should be coming down to around 6 500MW, that means an extra 1 500MW will be added to the grid. We have also returned Unit 5 at Kusile and Unit 2 will come online and bring an additional 980MW by September.
“We also expect Medupi Unit 4 coming on stream by April or May. If you have to ask me, we are looking good for the year and definitely in a better position than planned.”
However, Ramokgopa said that there would still be load shedding.
“We intended to reduce the intensity of load shedding and we are definitely on track, the next step is to eliminate load shedding. We will get more aggressive on new generation capacity from renewable energy players. We will be making announcements on transmissions and how we will accommodate renewable energy capacity.”
Ruse Moleshe, managing director for RUBK, an energy and infrastructure consulting and advisory company, said while there was reduced load shedding, there is still system unreliability.
“We hope this will improve over time, especially considering that Eskom’s outages can also now be attributed to higher maintenance, which should bode well for the system in the long run.”
Moleshe added that things are relatively better for now.
“We have to look at that trend over a longer period to ensure there is system reliability before one can say with confidence that there is a shift. So far, the situation is encouraging relative to the past. The winter period performance will also be another key milestone and good indicator of such an improvement.”
Moleshe added that there is a correlation between the system/supply improvement and diesel use.
“There is less need for emergency power (if the system is improving) and diesel is typically used for peaking periods and emergency situations.”
Moleshe added that there has been further procurement of renewable energy projects by the government and the private sector is developing projects too.
“The National Energy Crisis Committee has been facilitating quicker approvals. The challenge however is that these projects still need to be connected to the grid in order to deliver power to consumers. In the long run, whether it’s renewable energy, gas or any other technology, for these projects to successfully contribute to new generation capacity/ supply, they need to have access to the grid.”
Professor Wikus van Niekerk, Dean of Engineering at Stellenbosch University, said there has been some good news as load shedding levels 1 to 3 was better than 4 and above.
“But the numbers don’t show that we are in better shape compared to last year. The energy availability factor in January is very similar to what it was last year. There is no basis for the minister to claim it is better.
“Load shedding is less, but that is probably due to the 2.5GW of solar PV that private industry added last year.”