South Africans can expect to be hit hard by load-shedding before the end of June 2020, according to energy expert Ted Blom.
Blom told MyBroadband that as demand increases due to heavy industry, such as mining and smelting coming back online, Eskom could face problems from as soon as next week.
By the end of June, increased demand due to the winter season paired with a lack of new maintenance and problems associated with reactivating disabled power units will result in heavy load-shedding, Blom said.
“The moment that the full demand comes onto the system, you will see fireworks second to none,” Blom said. “I’m expecting transformers to blow up and boilers to malfunction.”
“I would not be surprised if we see the worst load-shedding we have ever seen by the end of June.”
Surge in demand due to mining and smelting
The national COVID-19 alert level has been reduced to level 4, which means that industries such as mining and smelting are beginning to come back online.
Blom said that as restrictions are relaxed and demand increases, Eskom will need to reactivate generation units which it has turned off due to the significant drop in electricity demand caused by the national lockdown.
“In the meantime, Eskom has not conducted extensive maintenance on its infrastructure,” he said, adding that some of the equipment, such as the large boilers in Eskom’s power stations, can take days to return to operation after a cold start.
He estimated that the national demand has fallen to around 10-12GW, primarily due to the lockdown requiring heavy industry to shut down temporarily.
Mining and smelting account for an additional 10GW of demand, and with these industries coming back online and more people returning to work across the country, he said Eskom will be hard-pressed to meet demand.
“Currently, Eskom is in the worst shape in its history,” he said.
Blom added that he expects Eskom to seek another government bailout later this year to fund its much-needed overhaul.
We are conducting maintenance – Eskom
When asked about the power utility’s ability to meet the electricity demand of the country during COVID-19 alert level 4, Eskom said it was too early to note an increase in demand.
“Businesses have only resumed operations yesterday, and many of them will be ramping up to full capacity during the course of the week,” Eskom said.
“It is too early, therefore, to say how the demand has changed, based only on yesterday.”
The power utility added that it has continued to conduct maintenance since the lockdown was first implemented, preparing for the increased demand after the lockdown is lifted.
“What needs to be stated clearly is that Eskom is able to meet demand, and as we have been communicating since the lockdown was implemented, we have ramped up maintenance in order to better meet demand post the lockdown,” Eskom said.
Blom disputed that Eskom would be able to supply enough power to meet electricity demand after the lockdown, however, stating that the maintenance conducted on the power utility’s infrastructure did not approach the amount required to significantly improve its generation capacity.
“They have just continued with normal maintenance,” he said. “They have not started on the ‘new philosophy’ maintenance.”
This “philosophy maintenance” model was announced by Eskom CEO Andre De Ruyter at the beginning of 2020 and refers to a plan to improve the long-term performance of the company’s power fleet at the expense of a higher risk of load-shedding in the near-term.
De Ruyter stated this process should take around 18 months, but Blom argued that the Eskom executive has drastically misconstrued the scope of the problem – and that it would take longer than five years to resolve Eskom’s reliability issues.