Eskom stage 7 load-shedding knocking on South Africa’s door

South Africa is on the brink of getting hit with its highest level of load-shedding yet — stage 7 — and Eskom CEO André De Ruyter should shoulder the blame.

That is according to energy expert Ted Blom, who recently spoke to eNCA following the implementation of stage 6 load-shedding at noon on Wednesday, 7 December 2022.

Eskom said the implementation of stage 6 was due to a high number of breakdowns since midnight and the need to preserve its remaining emergency generation reserves.

“We are on the cusp of record-breaking stage 7 load-shedding,” Blom said.

“If they don’t resolve stage 6 by tomorrow [Thursday, 8 December 2022], we will move to stage 7 because we are about to lose another thousand megawatts when they take unit 1 of Koeberg down for refurbishment of six months.”

The refurbishment Blom referred to is the scheduled shutdown of Koeberg nuclear power station’s Unit 1, which has a maximum nameplate capacity of 970MW and can deliver roughly 930MW of power to the grid.

One stage of load-shedding sheds around 1,000MW of demand from the grid.

With roughly another 1,000MW unavailable and the same level of breakdowns as of Wednesday, 7 September 2022, stage 7 would be a logical outcome.

The unit is being taken down to replace its steam generators and refuel it as part of a critical life-extension programme that has already faced significant delays and risks missing a crucial deadline.

Blom said if further breakdowns occurred by Thursday, load-shedding would increase past stage 7.

Koeberg nuclear power station near Cape Town

Blom laid into Eskom CEO André De Ruyter’s apparent flip-flopping on an intensified maintenance programme to restore the performance level of Eskom’s generating fleet.

“They are not sticking to their own promises of doing refurbishment, which was De Ruyter’s main claim to fame in January 2020 [shortly after his appointment],” Blom stated.

“In fact, he made a lie of his undertaking and then came out and said it was no longer cost-effective to do the refurbishment. Now he is trying again to say, ‘we need to do the refurbishment.'”

“We cannot have somebody at the helm of the organisation who keeps on vacillating on what is a critically strategic issue.”

De Ruyter running Eskom like a “spaza shop” — Blom

Blom also claimed that current maintenance was not being done according to the necessary specifications.

“It’s being done on the cheap, with inferior parts, without proper planning, without proper coordination,” Blom said.

He said the maintenance followed a ‘copy-paste’ approach and did not attempt to address the specific issues with the units from an engineering perspective.

Blom said two contract maintenance workers told him they were forced to use alternative parts from hardware stores because Eskom did not have the correct parts on-site.

He said they told him the parts had disappeared or were stolen.

According to Blom, they used components intended for cars, bicycles, and household DIY projects. These could not handle the stresses in the generating units, and they inevitably malfunction.

“We are running a spaza shop here, and I think it is high time to call on the president to answer why he keeps [failing to intervene] when it is very clear that the people who are leading Eskom are not competent to do the job.”

He said the situation was so dire, he hoped President Cyril Ramaphosa would declare a state of emergency to get “all hands on deck”.

Blom predicted if the country could not sort the situation out soon, it would see stage 8 load-shedding before 1 April 2023.

In an interview with eNCA late Wednesday afternoon, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha confirmed the utility would take Koeberg Unit 1 offline on Wednesday evening.

Mantshantsha said the reality was Eskom could implement up to stage 8 load-shedding, but the utility’s teams were working hard to avoid going beyond stage 6.

The lack of diesel for open-cycle gas turbines worsened the load-shedding outlook.

He said roughly 24,000MW of capacity was unavailable due to breakdowns and planned maintenance.

Now read: Unpleasant shocks lie ahead in Eskom financials

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Eskom stage 7 load-shedding knocking on South Africa’s door