Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer says he warned two years ago that Eskom needs additional capacity to prevent further load shedding.
Now that the state energy company is embarking on its most intensive bout of load shedding yet, simply throwing money at the problem can’t prevent the likelihood that power interruptions will grip the country for several years to come.
Answering questions at a recent impromptu media briefing, Oberholzer pointed out that had Eskom created more generating capacity sooner, maintenance on the generating units would not pose the dilemma it does today.
“I don’t believe throwing money without proper planning is a way to go,” says Oberholzer. “In order for us to do proper planning, to take a unit out, we need about 24 months to plan it properly.”
Eskom can only take out up to seven generating units at a time, out of 80 around the country. Currently, the utility has five units out on liability maintenance and have recently restored two.
The rate at which units are failing has prevented Eskom from being able to effectively plan for scheduled maintenance, no matter how much money is made available.
“We have been asking and I personally have been asking for two years, I have made it very public that we need additional capacity as soon as possible and the reason,” said Oberholzer.
“We do not have the luxury at this point in time to really plan how we are going to take all these units off line for an extended period to do all of the maintenance that is required by the unit itself.”
A week ago, Eskom CEO André de Ruyter announced plans to spend at least R178 billion on building the required infrastructure to create the extra generation capacity the power utility needs to meet the demand for electricity.
Post the local government elections, South Africans have made the sobering return to a load-shedding dystopia, with yet another warning of impending power disruptions. Eskom is making no bid to sugarcoat the fact that things may get worse on the load shedding front before they get better.
One of the stumbling blocks Eskom has foreseen in its road to recovery is the lack of skills within the organisation. The state entity has suffered a major brain drain, losing highly skilled and experienced professionals over the last 10 years.
This has contributed to a cycle of a lack of capacity, leading to existing units running too hot, breaking down and Eskom being unable to keep up with the maintenance of its infrastructure.
We have been running these units relatively hot because of the availability that is not the way it is supposed to be. So we need additional capacity so that we can take the units off and maintain them properly. We do not have the luxury at this point in time because the demand in the country is of such a nature and together our breakdowns that we cannot always do that.Jan Oberholzer
This year, National Treasury allocated R31.7 billion to Eskom for its 2021-2022 budget and provided R56 billion for 2020-2021. The allocation is meant to help stabilise the entity while it undergoes a restructuring which will see it split into separate entities for generation, transmission and distribution.
Despite this, Oberholzer says Eskom’s liability maintenance programme is not progressing the way that he would like to see it.