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By Lunga Simelane


Sunny skies and Kusile give Eskom some breathing room

Reduced summer demand and Kusile power station unit coming online relieve pressure on Eskom to implement load shedding.

Summertime and the living should be a lot easier for Eskom and ordinary South Africans as we have “turned a corner” in the power crisis, according to Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

Not only does summer reduce demand for power, but units at the disastrous Kusile power station are being brought back on line – at the expense of pollution rules.

Solar not solution to electricity woes of Eskom

The sunny days also mean that private households and businesses which have installed solar energy systems, will put less of a strain on the grid…although an expert warns against thinking that solar will solve our country’s electricity problems.

In the past year, private citizens and businesses have invested in solar capacity which total one-tenth of the current available capacity of the entire grid.

ALSO READ: Eskom reckons there’s 4 400MW of rooftop solar installed in SA

According to energy expert Ruse Moleshe, solar power had been intermittent and mostly available in afternoons, but not during peak periods when electrical energy was most needed.

“When it’s not or least available, diesel or pumped storage is used to meet the demand,” she said.

“Households that use solar on their rooftops do so to address their needs during load shedding. But because they are not off the grid, they still use Eskom infrastructure for the periods when they are not experiencing load shedding and to recharge.

“Large (amounts of) available and reliable electrical energy is still required to meet the demand, especially since Eskom typically increases maintenance during summer (when demand is lower than during the winter).”

ALSO READ: How rooftop solar is changing South Africa’s energy landscape

Ramokgopa ‘really excited’ as Eskom returns Kusile 3 to service

Moleshe said there was still more needed in spite of the growth in solar capacity. During the electricity plan update briefing yesterday, Ramokgopa said he was “really excited” about “turning the corner” in the load shedding crisis.

With the return to service of Kusile 3 resulting in a sustained, improved generation performance and the lower-than-anticipated demand, Eskom suspended load shedding until 4pm today.

“I indicated in our last briefing that the units are going to be indispensable to the resolution of this problem and in the short term, will help us to reduce the intensity of load shedding,” said Ramokgopa.

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Challenges at Kusile power station

The first of the three units discontinued at Kusile were offline because of issues associated with the standard flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) units. With the failure of the engineering component meant to reduce the amount of sulphur emitted into the atmosphere, Eskom had to discontinue units one, two and three at Kusile in October last year.

“It has now been almost a year … and the grid was losing about 2 400 megawatts of generating capacity,” he said.

“That contributed to a significant amount of strain on the grid and this was more acute (in) the winter period because of elevated demand.”

The restoration of the FGD at Kusile would still take time as there were a number of issues which required attention.

“Before we could do that, we also had to do a root cause analysis which resulted in a significant amount of slurry that was deposited on the walls of the 210-metre chimney that is meant to release the emissions into the atmosphere. It resulted in a potential threat to the structural integrity of the chimney,” Ramokgopa said.

Interim measure

“It will be important for us to seek an interim measure.

“The interim measure is necessary to allow us an opportunity to return the units as soon as possible into operation so that the economy and households can benefit from the 2 400MW, which were discontinued as a result of the failure of this unit.”

Moleshe said the Kusile units were likely to make a difference – “not alleviate load shedding because of available capacity of almost 3 000MW”.

Eskom granted emission exemption

Ramokgopa added that due to the legislated framework Eskom had to request an exemption for these interim measures, leading to a public comment period.

He said mitigation measures for sulphur dioxide emissions were set in place, and the units were now slated for a 12-month interim operational period.

“The environmental impact of these emissions – as well as the well-being of the communities surrounding the Kusile power station – were central to the exemption’s approval process,” he said.

The granted sulphur dioxide emission exemption was authorised by Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affiars Minister Barbara Creecy and supported by the Air Quality Act and Nkangala municipality.

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