Eskom has been burning money in the form of expensive diesel since this weekend, suggesting that there may be trouble ahead.
The power utility’s latest energy-generation data suggests that the grid has been severely constrained for the past three days, coinciding with heavy downpours in the aftermath of cyclone Eloise over the weekend.
According to Eskom’s online dashboard monitoring use of its open cycle gas turbines (OCGT), as of Sunday the utility had been using the diesel guzzling machines at a load factor of 30%.
For these turbines, which were normally reserved for emergency use, to be used at that level, explained energy expert Chris Yelland, Eskom had to be in serious trouble in terms of energy generation capacity with coal.
“For Eskom to be using the OCGTs, which they don’t like to use because that means they have to burn a lot of diesel which is costly, it means that they must be close to the edge. Not quite at the edge yet but close,” said Yelland.
On 29 January, when the OCGT load factor shot up from around 12% to 30%, the SA Weather Service (SAWS) warned of more disruptive rainfall across Gauteng and other parts of the country. According to Yelland, heavy rainfall increased the risk of Eskom’s stockpiles becoming too wet to use, but the utility announced last week it had contingency plans to prevent this.
On Sunday, the cash-strapped utility announced load reduction measures for KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Free State due to overloading.
Yelland said these early indications suggested Eskom may be pushed to more drastic measures such as load shedding nationally, should their issues persist.
“Last week they did announce that they had plans in place which they were already starting to implement to deal with the wet weather. So if those contingency plans are in place, then we shouldn’t be getting into trouble. There should be adequate drainage at the coal stockpiles, so that water doesn’t damage the coal.
“They also need to make sure the stockpiles don’t get too low because what happens at the bottom is a build-up of coal fines [dust] which can turn into a sort of mud when it gets wet and that can lead to clogging.”