981 Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona listens as the media puts questions to him after a briefing on the power system and the forecast for the season at Megawatt Park in Sunninghill. 081214. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Johannesburg - Turn it off and get used to it. Yesterday, Eskom chief executive Tshediso Matona apologised profusely for load shedding and unveiled a grim calendar of 36 likely load-shedding days until the end of March.

“It really pains us to have to load-shed. We know the public does not take kindly to it,” he said.

But it’s going to continue, and Matona and his executives urged the public to learn how to read load-shedding schedules, to keep them handy and plan ahead.

Eskom’s system outlook calendar logs three days of probable load shedding this month: Monday, (which took place), Thursday and Friday.

“The week ahead will be very tight, with a medium risk of load shedding, and a high risk on Thursday and Friday,” Matona said.

Eskom expects a breathing space until February, when almost every working day is marked in the red of probable load shedding, and March, which isn’t much better.

“It’s a total of 36 days of probable load shedding, along with another 59 marked in yellow as medium risk of load shedding and just 18 in the low-risk green,” Matona said.

“I don’t think there’s a crisis at Eskom,” he added – but he admitted there were challenges.

“When we start going to blackouts, then I will say there is a crisis.”

A blackout is an unplanned massive outage on the national network, while load shedding is a planned shutdown of a section.

One of Eskom’s problem was that there were too many units down for unplanned maintenance.

“Over the last few months we have seen a significant increase in unplanned maintenance or breakdowns on our plants (between 5 000 megawatts and 9 000MW) that has had a compounding negative effect on power system reliability,” Matona said.

Put simply, too much is breaking down, too often.

By late Monday, Eskom had yet to release its routine state-of-the-system details, but Thursday’s bulletin was grim: nearly 13 700MW of generating power was out on a national grid with a total capacity of just more than 42 000MW. That’s a third of the national grid offline.

More than 8 000MW of that 13 700MW was off due to breakdowns; the rest was planned maintenance.

Eskom listed units set to be switched on by the end of the month. This included 2 543MW due to have returned to service by this morning – three units at Majuba power station in Mpumalanga and one at Lethabo in the Free State – but another two were due to go offline last night at Kendal in Mpumalanga and Palmiet in the Western Cape.

That means Tuesday should start with 1 703MW more than Monday.

But another 3 000MW of maintenance is planned for this month.

Eskom plans to have more than 4 700MW back online within seven days (including Monday night’s repairs) and 6 000MW back by the end of this month.

Switching power on and off for load shedding has sometimes led to more breakdowns.

The breakdowns mean Eskom is routinely running its open-cycle gas turbines (which run on diesel) and the pumped storage stations (hydroelectric stations that must routinely go offline to pump the water back into the upper dams for re-use).

Eskom is running out of funds in this year’s budget for diesel, which is why February and March have an increased probability of load shedding.

The power utility won’t ask the National Treasury for more money for diesel but will instead ask the National Energy Regulator of SA to approve the extended use of those power plants as a “prudent cost”.

That points to an increase in electricity prices.

“The power system will be severely constrained and will begin to ease once at least two units at Medupi and one unit at Kusile are running,” Matona said.

Medupi and Kusile are the coal-fired power stations being built in Limpopo.

There was more bad news on Monday. Medupi’s first unit was scheduled to be synchronised to the grid on December 24, but this would be delayed until early next month, Matona said. Full power from that unit would take another six months.

Matona emphasised that the system would remain tight all day in summer and reiterated the utility’s call to customers to “live lightly by reducing demand from 6am to 10pm”.

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The Star