Load-shedding risk as Eskom’s wet coal problem returns

South Africans could be in for another bout of load-shedding this week should the widespread rainfall across northeastern parts of the country not subside.

Due to the impact of tropical cyclone Eloise, large parts of Limpopo and Mpumalanga saw heavy rains over the past few days.

Many of Eskom’s power plants are located in these provinces and now once again face the prospect of having to deal with damp fuel.

In the past, heavy rainfall has led to coal being too wet to be milled for use in the furnaces at several power stations.

This meant that the overall power output of the stations was severely lowered until the fuel was dry again, with Eskom being forced to implement load-shedding in the interim.

The utility on Friday warned before the arrival of Eloise’s resultant weather system that coal handling may be affected by the rain.

“Typically, heavy rainfall for four or less days does not pose a significant threat to power station operations, but continuous rainfall for more than four days does hamper coal handling at the power stations,” Eskom cautioned.

“There are some power stations in the Mpumalanga area that have been experiencing ash dam constraints,” it added.

“Continuous heavy rainfall over these power stations could hamper operations and recovery efforts are underway,” Eskom said.

In a subsequent update released on Monday, Eskom said that operations were continuing as normal, but that Eskom’s teams were monitoring the progress of the storm and impact of the heavy rains.

“Should there be any significant impact, Eskom will communicate timeously,” the utility stated.

Weather forecast

MyBroadband asked Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha for comment on whether the risk of load-shedding had increased due to the rainfall.

Mantshantsha reiterated that as of 17:30 on Monday, there was no significant impact from the heavy rains at the power stations and that these were operating as normal.

“The teams are placing particular focus on minimising the impact of the rains on operations, ensuring that the drainage system continues to work efficiently,” Mantshantsha stated.

According to the SAWS weather forecast for Witbank/Emalahleni, around which several powers stations are located, significant rainfall was expected over the course of the next week.

Following on Monday’s 25mm rainfall forecast, the SAWS indicated the following measurements for the town up until Sunday :

  • Tuesday 26 January 2021 – 20mm
  • Wednesday 27 January 2021 – 10mm
  • Thursday 28 January 2021 – 5mm
  • Friday 29 January 2021 – 3mm
  • Saturday 30 January 2021 – 5mm
  • Sunday 31 January 2021 – 10mm

Arnot, Duvha, Hendrina, and Kendal coal-fired power stations are all within an 80km radius of Emalahleni.

The town of Lephalale in Limpopo – close to where Medupi is located – was expected to receive a cumulative rainfall of 58mm in the next week.

The first set of maps below show the rainfall forecast for Southern Africa until Saturday, according to the Global Forecast System (GFS) used by AfriWX.

The second image shows a map with the locations of Eskom’s base-load power stations.

Rainfall forecast

Rainfall forecast AfriWX

Eskom power stations

Eskom Power Station locations

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Load-shedding risk as Eskom’s wet coal problem returns