Eskom CEO André de Ruyter on Monday said the power utility had managed to sustain high levels of maintenance of its power stations since last year, which has also contributed to the increased risk of load shedding.
Speaking at a media briefing on the status of Eskom’s infrastructure, De Ruyter said planned maintenance had gradually increased between 5,500MW and 7,000MW, or about 12% of Eskom’s total capacity. This was despite the challenges posed by the national Covid-19 lockdown.
“Owing to the nine-point plan, which places correcting new build defects top of the list of priorities, the availability and reliability of the synchronised units at Medupi are showing steady improvement at an average of more than 75% availability,” De Ruyter said.
“Major defects at Ingula pumped storage scheme have also been addressed. All four units there are now performing at their full capacity of 333MW,” De Ruyter said.
At least five difficult years ahead
Progress made on maintenance does not mean Eskom is out of the woods yet. De Ruyter said the company can expect a power shortfall for the next five years, meaning the risk of load shedding will remain while it overhauls old power plants.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Eskom has to reiterate there will continue to be an electricity supply shortfall of approximately 4,000MW over the next five years,” De Ruyter said.
“Capacity challenges will remain one of the key challenges South Africa will continue to grapple with. The ultimate aim is to improve performance to reduce the risk of load shedding. The enormity of this task cannot be overstated.”
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His projections come just days after the release of a study published by the CSIR, which found that despite a decrease in demand, load shedding in 2020 was driven by declining electricity availability.
The report found the country spent more than 850 hours, or 9%, of 2020 without power, thanks to load shedding
This availability is even lower this year due to the reliability maintenance as well as unplanned outages, which means the risk of load shedding may even be higher in coming months.
Not taking the crisis lightly
Last week, Eskom implemented stage 2 load shedding that was meant to last until 11pm on Friday.
But on Sunday the utility announced that stage 2 load shedding would continue until 5am on Wednesday due to breakdowns at a number of power stations.
De Ruyter said Eskom’s executives did not take the recent incidents of load shedding lightly.
He said network overloading remained a major concern and Eskom was implementing load reduction during peak times in certain high-density areas that have high incidences of illegal connections. De Ruyter reiterated there would continue to be an electricity supply shortfall of about 4,000MW over the next five years due to capacity challenges.
On municipal debt owed to Eskom, De Ruyter said as of 31 January 2021 municipalities owed Eskom a staggering R35.2 billion.
He said Eskom was engaging with the government and various stakeholders to find a sustainable solution to the debt problem.
“Deliberations with various stakeholders prevailed over the last few months and a partnership model between struggling municipalities and Eskom, known as active partnering, will be implemented to assist municipalities. The active partnering model will allow municipalities to continue to fulfil their constitutional duties of providing electricity to their customers but will be underpinned by a legal agreement which will see Eskom act as an agent for the provision of services and collections.
“Through this model, Eskom will facilitate the roll-out of smart meters, conduct collections on behalf of the municipality and administer the revenue in a manner that ensures sustainability of the electricity infrastructure. This will in turn minimise the escalation in municipal arrear debt while also ensuring skills and capacity transfer.”
De Ruyter said notable strides had also been made in addressing coal-stock challenges.
“As of 10 March 2021, the average coal stock was at 51.7 days, excluding Medupi and Kusile. There is now no power station below the grid code minimum requirement of 20 days,” De Ruyter said.
He said the resilience of the power system during heavy rains and cyclone storm Eloise in late January was a clear indication that significant investment in Eskom’s wet coal management strategy was paying off.
De Ruyter said Eskom was now focused on reducing emissions across its generation fleet. He warned the cost of bringing the aging coal fleet into full compliance with the minimum emissions standards would exceed R300 billion.
“The new minimum emissions standards now in effect mean there is a lot of work still to be done to bring the whole generation fleet to full compliance. Because the electrostatic precipitators on certain older plants are incapable of meeting the new minimum emissions standards, a number of our generation units will have to undergo a series of upgrades.”