Eskom secretly conducted a nationwide blackout simulation this past week to test how its systems would handle a total loss of power. This is according to a report in the City Press.
The report stated the exercise was given the code-name Exercise Breaking Dawn and took place on Monday.
Breaking Dawn tested areas such as emergency responses and how the crisis would be communicated to the media and public in the event of a complete blackout.
According to the report, the secret exercise saw Eskom’s managers and operational and support staff who are part of the “divisional tactical command structures” take part.
Is a total blackout coming?
The report stated that the secret testing may be a sign Eskom is preparing for the worst – a national blackout.
In January, Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona said one unexpected event at any of its power stations could push the country to the total failure of the national electricity system that may take weeks to resolve.
His comments were later said to have been misinterpreted due to his poor grammar, and the “blackout panic” was overstated.
Government officials have insisted that the simulation exercise does not mean there is a blackout looming.
If a total blackout were to occur, it could take two to three weeks to get the power grid running again. See: How a total blackout in South Africa could happen
Besides leaving the country without power, a national blackout would also leave us in a situation where Eskom would have to restart power plants without any electricity — or “black start”.
Power plants use some of the electricity they generate to operate equipment such as conveyor belts that feed coal into furnaces, so to start them up you need to start with a small generator.
To bootstrap a power plant, a small diesel generator is typically used to start up a larger generator, which in turn is used to start parts of the plant.
Eskom hires debt collectors
In more Eskom news, the Sunday Times reports that the power utility will hire debt collectors to go after residents who collectively owe it more than R8 billion.
Soweto is responsible for half this debt, according to the report, while residents of Gauteng, Limpopo, and North West will be targeted by Eskom.
If residents do not pay, they face the threat of being blacklisted.
Earlier in 2015, Eskom said it will start working with the Department of Co-operative Governance to recoup the money owed by municipalities, which is estimated to be close to R10 billion.