Since the start of the year South Africans had to ensure numerous bouts of load-shedding which energy analyst Chris Yelland describes as “completely abnormal”.
Eskom said the recent rolling blackouts had to be implemented as a result of the heavy rainfall over the past few days which caused problems feeding coal to boilers at the Medupi power station.
“The load-shedding has been exacerbated by the forced shutdown of five generating units at Medupi as a result of the inability to get coal into the units due to the heavy rain in the Lephalale area last night,” Eskom said.
For South Africans who had to deal with regular blackouts over the last few years, Eskom’s excuses are wearing thin.
“If it’s not wet coal, it is hot weather. If it’s not hot weather, it is rainy weather. Or windy weather. Whatever. Wet coal, dry coal, you name it,” Yelland said.
The bottom line is that South Africa has a power system that is not showing the necessary resilience.
“It is completely abnormal that summer weather with rain should cause a massive outage of one of the biggest power stations in South Africa,” he said.
One can expect extreme weather like snowfall, heavy winds, or hail to knock out some distribution or transmission lines, but to knock out the 4,800MW Medupi power plant is very unusual.
Eskom is justifiably bearing the brunt of the backlash from South Africans for these problems as they are mostly self-inflicted injuries.
It is, however, not the current management team that is to blame for the poor performance of power plants like Medupi and Kusile.
These power stations were designed many years ago and the current problems are a consequence of poor management in the past.
The current Eskom management inherited flawed designs at Medupi and Kusile that they had nothing to do with, but which they must now fix.
A good example is a breakdown in the conveyer belt system at Medupi which caused the power plant to shut down.
“There should always be a level of redundancy. You should not be in a position where one conveyer belt or two conveyer belts can shut down an entire power station,” Yelland said.
He added that duplicate conveyor belts are not enough, because one can be under maintenance and the other one can trip.
Instead, you need a triple-redundant system to give the security you need to run a large power station like Medupi.
Building a resilient system comes as a cost, but it is much lower than the cost of not having power.