Johannesburg - South Africans can expect to be hit by “intermittent” load shedding for at least the next two to three years.
“It’s not going to be continuous, but of course, it’s still serious,” said energy analyst Chris Yelland.
“For the next two to three years, we might go for some days of load shedding followed by weeks of non-load shedding.”
On Friday, Eskom said unplanned breakdowns were at 14096MW, just under the 14200MW in unplanned breakdowns reached on December 9.
This was when Eskom implemented stage 4 load shedding, eventually moving to an unprecedented stage 6 later that evening.
“We, however, remind customers that as the system continues to be vulnerable and unpredictable, the possibility of load shedding remains,” the power utility warned.
“Things appear very bleak at this moment,” said Yelland. “If you’ve been following Eskom’s regular emails giving their unplanned outages, these are running at between 13000MW and 14000MW.”
This is “severe” and much higher than the threshold of 9500MW - unplanned outages above this level mean there is a higher probability of load shedding.
“Eskom now says that over (the) Christmas season, unplanned breakdowns includes units taken off ‘proactively’ in ‘tactical decisions to manage a constrained scenario’, but this cannot be formally classified as planned maintenance because a 28-day notice rule applies to such maintenance,” he said.
“So, what Eskom is now saying is that things are not as bad as they may seem right now, because some of what is being classified as unplanned breakdowns is actually proactive tactical maintenance done over the Christmas season while demand for electricity is very low.
“In January, demand for electricity starts picking up and Eskom won’t be able to do these strategic interventions anymore. Things will revert back to the situation where unplanned outages are sitting at 9500MW. That’s just inside of the line, and all of a sudden we can be pushed over the line between load shedding and no load shedding because indeed, it’s very close to the line and it’s easy to cross over if something untoward happens.
“South Africa will experience intermittent load shedding and this could continue for some time as Eskom tries to get a grip on the situation and as new generating capacity comes on stream from Medupi and Kusile, which is starting slowly and much too late. Renewable energy is helping significantly to reduce load shedding and to reduce Eskom’s diesel usage.”
Energy expert Ted Blom warned the country can expect rolling blackouts, major breakdowns and an erratic power supply for the next five years that will make the recent crisis of load shedding “look like a Sunday picnic”.“Eskom has been out of coal for quite a while,” said Blom, who blames Eskom’s coal problems and its maintenance backlog.
“The reason for the current blackouts and problems is because Eskom is buying crappy coal from every Tom, Dick and Harry. If you’re feeding crappy fuel into the system, you can’t expect it to perform properly. They are only doing patch jobs on maintenance, and eventually it will run threadbare".