Code red at Eskom

The risk of load-shedding between December 2023 and December 2024 is remarkably high, with Eskom anticipating it will be more than 2,000MW short to meet demand and reserves for at least the next year.

This is according to Eskom’s Generation Adequacy Report for the medium term, which gives insight into the risk of load-shedding based on “planned” and “likely” risk levels.

The outlook covers the 52 weeks from 20 November 2023 to 25 November 2024.

“The maintenance plan included in these assumptions includes a base scenario of outages (planned risk level),” Eskom explained in the report.

“As there is opportunity for further outages, these will be included. This ‘likely risk scenario’ includes an additional 1,500 MW of outages on the base plan.”

Under both the “planned” and “likely” risk scenarios, the power utility anticipates it will be at least 2,001MW short to meet demand and reserves during all 52 weeks of the year ahead.

To put this into perspective, a lack of 2,001MW of generation capacity translates to approximately Stage 2 load-shedding, depending on which other demand-reducing initiatives Eskom is running.

The power utility has also increased the anticipated lack of generation for each scenario.

Previously, Eskom’s “planned” risk level anticipated outages reaching 17,200MW. It has now increased this figure to 18,200MW.

The same can be said for the “likely” risk level — previously reported as 18,700MW and now reported as 20,200MW.

Eskom also changed its unplanned outage assumption, which indicates its assumed breakdown figures for the period.

In early 2023, Eskom reported this figure as 15,000MW throughout the year. It increased this to 16,000MW.

Load-shedding gets chaotic

Many South Africans will find the load-shedding outlook unsurprising, as the rotational power cuts have intensified significantly since early November.

After several weeks of low load-shedding stages and several rotational power cut suspensions, Eskom’s generation unit breakdowns climbed to over 17,000MW in early November 2023.

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, South Africa’s electricity minister, said Eskom “dropped the ball” by allowing breakdowns to increase drastically.

“We have done exceptionally well over a period of three months [but] I think the ball has been dropped here,” said Ramokgopa.

“As a result of these failures, and this is something that is receiving attention, we’ve gone back to about 17,000MW [of breakdowns], and this is totally unacceptable, I must say.”

The increase in unplanned outages resulted in South Africa’s return to Stage 3 load-shedding.

However, Eskom’s rotational power cuts intensified further in late November. Load-shedding increased to Stage 4 on 22 November.

The power utility then announced the implementation of Stage 6 load-shedding on Friday, 24 November 2023, with the high level expected to persist until Monday, 27 November.

The utility blamed the increased load-shedding on the loss of five generating units over the past 24 hours and the need to replenish emergency reserves.

Ramokgopa held a media briefing to explain the intensified load-shedding and stated that generation unit breakdowns weren’t primarily to blame.

Instead, he said Eskom had been over-committing its emergency reserves to mitigate even higher stages.

Kgosientso Ramokgopa, minister for electricity in The Presidency.

The increase to Stage 6 came as Eskom had to cut back on its pumped storage and open-cycle gas turbine usage to replenish emergency reserves.

“On the back of that cluster of units that had gone out, what it meant is that we had to significantly engage our emergency reserves,” he said.

“For purposes of protecting the grid, we need to ensure that we continue to protect the reserves, so we are not going to engage them at a heightened intensity, and as a result, we don’t have the benefit of the 4,600MW that we would automatically draw from our emergency reserves.”

Eskom Group executive for generation Bheki Nxumalo added that the heatwave experienced in the country at the time had increased demand by about 1,500MW, likely due to increased air conditioner usage.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland also explained that power stations like Matimba, Majuba, Medupi and Kusile rely on dry cooling systems. These power stations are susceptible to variations in temperatures.

In high temperatures, these power stations cannot cool properly and run the risk of overheating. Therefore, their output or power produced is sub-optimal.

However, engineer and energy expert Mthunzi Luthuli said Eskom’s excuses are unacceptable and do not justify implementing stage 6 load-shedding.

“This is not acceptable, blaming the weather we’ve always had historically. We’ve always had warm summers and cold winters,” he said.

“When it’s cold in winter, they tell us it’s cold, and that’s why we have load-shedding. When it’s hot in summer, they tell us it’s hot, and that’s why we have load-shedding. It’s nonsense.”

Now read: Eskom announces this week’s load-shedding schedule – Up to Stage 4 power cuts

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Code red at Eskom