Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha believes that despite the return of load-shedding and the COVID-19 pandemic, Eskom has made good progress since the beginning of this year.
“It took us about 15 years to get to the point where we are – where we have to almost talk about load-shedding on a daily basis,” said Mantshantsha in a video call with the Daily Maverick.
“As such, nine months is quite a hasty period to claim any significant gains.”
However, he said that there are five major successes that Eskom has achieved this year of which it can be proud:
- Repairs of all defects at the Ingula power plant were completed in March. It is now performing at its full capacity of 1,200MW.
- Design defects were fixed at three Medupi units – Units 1, 3, and 6 – and these are now performing at their full 800MW capacities. Eskom is now busy completing repairs to design defects of unit 4, while units 2 and 5 will be fixed by the end of this year – meaning Medupi will be at full capacity.
- Payment levels for electricity in Soweto had doubled to about 25% in March before the lockdown began.
- Payment levels by municipalities have increased at a steady 5% per month since the attachment action against the Emfuleni municipality in February 2020.
- Boards have been appointed for each of the three divisions at Eskom – Generation, Transmission, and Distribution.
How Eskom will fix the load-shedding problem
Mantshantsha said the lack of reliable generation activity continues to be a major issue for Eskom, and he also acknowledged that historically, Eskom has suffered from major issues with fuel procurement.
However, he said that Eskom is taking active steps to ensure that its power plants are managed smoothly moving forward.
“For the first time ever, three weeks ago, Eskom suspended two power station managers to investigate the poor performance of their power stations,” said Mantshantsha.
“This is an attempt to address the point of reliability, but it is just the starting point.”
Mantshantsha said that Eskom has also requested that the government build an additional 5,000MW capacity in the form of new power plants.
To this end, the government has initiated a process to procure an emergency 2,000MW and will invest in another 11,800MW over the next eight years.
“Fixing current stations – some of which are way beyond their lifespan – is not going to deliver the outcome of total reliability,” said Mantshantsha.
“And Eskom cannot build new power stations on its own until its debt problem has been resolved and its internal capability has been improved,” said Mantshantsha.
Instead, while the government hopefully builds new plants, Eskom is focused on maintenance on current plants.
It believes that the current level of load-shedding will last for the next year, with significant reductions to load-shedding happening by the end of 2021.
12 months is optimistic – Expert
Independent power consultant Doug Kuni does not believe that Eskom has load-shedding under control.
“From an outside perspective I do not get the feeling we have our finger on the pulse as far as load-shedding is concerned,” he said.
“It is simplistic to say if you catch up maintenance backlog in 12 months, the reliability problem will go away.”
“My perspective is you need much more involved technical competence to deal with reliability issues. I do not have confidence in 12 month timeline,” said Kuni.
Kuni noted that renewable products and other IPPs will not address Eskom’s baseload problems, and simply maintaining plants is not enough – particularly when maintenance has been neglected for so many years.
“When Eskom had its highest reliability we had very good technical competence at power stations, but this was whittled away in the last decade,” said Kuni.
“Technical competence at the power stations should have been a priority.”
Major load-shedding will be around for years – Experts
The CSIR recently published a presentation which said South Africans should not only expect load-shedding to continue over the next three years; it will likely get significantly worse.
According to the updated Energy Availability Factor (EAF) and demand forecast determined by the CSIR researchers, South Africa should expect over 4,500GWh of load-shedding in 2022, compared to the 1,352GWh the country experienced in 2019.
Energy expert Ted Blom believes that load-shedding could continue for even longer than the CSIR predicts.
“My scenario extends to load-shedding for at least five years after they have signed on the opening of new coal mines to feed the current coal fleet,” Blom said.
He expects load-shedding to get worse over the next year because of “turf wars” and corruption taking place inside Eskom.
“They also do not have adequate funding available because they are carrying at least 20,000 extra staff on the payroll,” Blom said.