Why Eskom can’t do proper maintenance on its power stations

Truth and Energy civil nuclear engineer Hugo Kruger said South Africans should expect load-shedding to persist for at least the first six months of 2024 as Eskom has not performed proper maintenance in over a decade.

This is because Eskom does not have sufficient reserves, and proper maintenance requires that a unit be taken off the grid for anywhere between 6 months and a year. It would, therefore, necessitate more load-shedding.

Kruger’s comments come after Eskom reimplemented load-shedding on 2 January following an 18-day streak of zero rotational blackouts.

The utility explained that, with the current intensified maintenance aimed at improving the fleet performance, it had a setback of three generating units not coming back online as anticipated.

In addition, it suffered a loss of six generating units and projected an increase in electricity demand.

This comes after the Electricity Minister said in December 2023 that Eskom would be performing opportunity maintenance over the festive season as demand will be lower in that time.

Kruger told Newzroom Afrika that Eskom normally has around 5 GW of its fleet on plant maintenance, but as part of its December opportunity maintenance, the utility currently has around 8 GW in maintenance.

“They took three units off, which is okay still because demand hasn’t entirely gone up, but as the factories are now going to start opening up, demand will increase,” he said.

Kruger explained that South Africa does not have a lack of generation capacity — the real problem is that it does not have reserves that will allow Eskom’s fleet to meet demand even if something goes wrong.

“There is no lack of capacity in South Africa, but we don’t have that safety margin — so if something goes wrong, we have load shedding,” he said.

“That’s why you’re seeing stage one, stage two, and stage four happening, and I suspect that’s going to continue for at least the first six months of this year.”

South Africa’s biggest challenge is its inability to find a way to overhaul Eskom’s entire coal fleet, Kruger said.

Kruger said Eskom’s lack of a reserve margin means all the maintenance the utility has done is “superficial at best”.

“They haven’t done proper maintenance since the soccer World Cup because every time somebody proposes to do a complete overhaul, the politicians realize very quickly that’s going to mean more imposed load-shedding, so then they backtrack,” he said.

“And the longer you delay the actual maintenance that needs to take place, the more we’re going to see this happening.”

A version of this article was first published by Daily Investor. It is reproduced with permission.

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Why Eskom can’t do proper maintenance on its power stations