Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said at a press event on Sunday that the current Stage 6 load-shedding is a result of “calculated risks” undertaken by Eskom and his department.
He explained that Eskom is prioritising planned maintenance to deliver long-term improvements to the grid, but this runs the risk of clusters of units failing in short order.
The increased planned maintenance levels decreased the leeway when situations like this happen — necessitating rapid escalations to higher levels of load-shedding.
“We accepted that to be an inherent risk in our strategy, but following the fiscal support we have received from the National Treasury, it is our duty to balance short-term and long-term gains,” said Ramokgopa.
“This weekend has been a setback, but we will recover — and over time, these setbacks will become smaller and smaller.”
Analysts disagree with Eskom’s strategy
The trend towards increased planned maintenance has been noticed — and criticised — by South African energy experts.
National Rationalised Specifications Association of South Africa’s (NRS) Vally Padayachee previously noted that South Africa experienced unnecessary load-shedding in the first week of 2024 because Eskom had taken more generation capacity out for planned maintenance than needed.
Independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan agreed, noting that Eskom took around 8,000MW of its generating plant out for planned maintenance over the final fortnight of 2023 but could not return many units on time in the first week of 2024.
Jordaan lamented these “chronic delays in the return of units from planned maintenance” — and if these are indeed regular occurrences, it is a big challenge for Eskom to overcome while implementing its future-focused strategy.
Committed to the long game
Ramokgopa insists that Eskom remains committed to doing things “the right way” and “will not cut corners.”
He added that Eskom expects a significant proportion of its units to return to action in March.
At this point, claimed the minister, South Africans can expect more load-shedding respite.
He also stressed that Stage 6 load-shedding is now an outlier, as the last time we experienced this level of load-shedding was in November 2023.
“Your ability to measure our team is easy — have your lights been on more this year compared to last year?” said Ramokgopa.
Boiler tube leaks
Covering the ongoing stage 6 load-shedding, Ramokgopa explained that a cluster of unit outages happened shortly after one another towards the end of last week.
This included 4,400MW taken out of commission due to nine different boiler tube leaks.
The minister stressed the size of these units, claiming that a single unit can generate over 600MW.
“Boiler tube leaks are one of our biggest risk areas, and we have taken the position as Eskom management to address these leaks as a major concern,” said Ramokgopa.
He added that Eskom is now working with OEMs directly in an attempt to sort out equipment-related issues faster.
Two of these boiler tube leaks have already been fixed, and their units have been returned to service. The remaining 3,400MW of boiler tube-related outages are expected to be back in operation by Wednesday.