Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe has warned that while power stations are at “comfortable levels” now this is likely to change once big businesses and factories begin operations.
Speaking to IOL, Phasiwe said that electricity systems will be under pressure from the middle of January 2019 – when the festive holiday period comes to an end.
“We have done a lot of maintenance during the festive period and some of the units are back on the system and will help stabilise the power grid,” said Phasiwe.
“Many of our generating units are over 35 years old, so clearly we are running an old system that needs a lot of maintenance and generally it’s unreliable,” he added.
Phasiwe said that this, combined with a need to catch up on maintenance, means that load-shedding is likely to resume in the coming weeks.
Preparing for 2019
Phasiwe said that Eskom has also stockpiled 28 days’ worth of coal supplies, ensuring shortages are not a contributing factor to load-shedding, but energy expert Ted Blom has questioned the quality of Eskom’s coal.
“Eskom has recovered some coal, but what they have done because the mining sector has been closed for the last three weeks is they have bought coal that is laying on dumps,” said Blom in the report.
Blom added that a lot of this coal is of poor quality.
The warning from Eskom follows Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan stating that the Eskom power grid would be more stable when businesses returned to operations after the holiday season in 2019.
There has been no load-shedding from 15 December thanks to power demand decreasing as businesses and industries closed for Christmas.
This is in stark contrast to what took place at the end of 2018, with daily load-shedding hitting South Africans.
Gordhan said there were several reasons for load-shedding, including a lack of skills at Eskom, coal supply issues, and problems with their generators.
Additionally, Gordhan blamed the Gupta family for some of Eskom’s failings.
“Today we feel the effect of state capture, and the reality that we have very old power stations that we are operating,” said Gordhan in December.
According to Gordhan, Eskom has 47,000MW of installed capacity, but in reality, can only supply 26,000MW.
South Africa’s power demand in summer is 29,000MW, meaning that Eskom was unable to cater to South Africa’s power needs.
Between 9,000MW and 11,000MW of the missing capacity was due to technical breakdowns, which Gordhan blamed on insufficient investment into maintenance and repair since 2010.
Huge danger for South Africa
Besides the irritation of not having electricity at home, load-shedding presents big risks to South Africa and its economy.
Business analyst Martin Kingston has labeled Eskom and its poor performance the “biggest threat to the wellbeing of the South African economy”.
This is due to businesses having to pay more for generators and fuel to keep running, and companies not willing to invest in South Africa until electricity supply is constant and guaranteed.
Eskom also currently finds itself in R419 billion debt, which is likely to be paid out of South Africa’s tax coffers.