‘Blackouts until April’

2014-03-09 14:00

Outgoing Eskom CEO Brian Dames must have ­prepared his speech a dozen times during the summer as Eskom courted disaster.

But he was finally forced to deliver it on Friday when load shedding hit for the first time in six years.

Dames, who retires at the end of the month, said the country’s power supply would be under pressure for the next few years until “we’ve completed a substantial part of the build programme” and it would be touch and go until April.

The only bright side is that load shedding will only be done on an emergency basis. Dames says Eskom is better off than in 2008, when there were rolling blackouts every day.

Thursday’s emergency was sparked when Eskom’s generating capacity dropped to 28?000 megawatts while the expected ­demand was 31?900MW.

Dames said the chances of unplanned outages were expected to decrease as we entered winter and power stations completed their maintenance.

But he warned that Cape Town’s nuclear plant, Koeberg, would have to reduce its load next week as part of its maintenance schedule, putting more pressure on the grid.

Until the first units of Limpopo’s Medupi power station come online towards the end of the year, the threat of darkness will always loom.

Dogged by delays, the Medupi plant should have been on stream by now.

But on Friday, Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi said that even with four Medupi units online, it would not have been enough to address Thursday’s problem.

This year alone there have been three power emergencies that almost sent the grid over the edge.

Industrial users had been scaling down all summer, regularly cutting their usage by 10%.

In the end, it was feeding wet coal into the boilers that sunk the ship.

It was a dark and wet night at the Kendal power station near Witbank, Mpumalanga?–?the world’s largest coal-fired power ­station?–?when staff realised that a crisis was looming.

The wet coal was not producing the necessary energy.

At about 7pm during the shift change, the output started ­decreasing and by the early hours of the next morning, Eskom had lost four of its units at Kendal.

The coal had turned into a wet slurry and had started to block the system.

Dames said the power station had used all emergency reserves, but then Mpumalanga’s Majuba power station also shut down.

By 5am on Thursday, Eskom had lost a supply of 3?320MW.

Load shedding then became a reality.

If Eskom does not implement it and demand outstrips supply, the grid will be tripped and the country could be without electricity for at least a week.

In its new build programme, Eskom has commissioned an extra 4?453MW supply.

Independent power producers with mostly ­renewable energy will add another 2?460MW, which should be enough to keep South Africa’s lights on for another decade.

South Africans have also saved plenty of electricity. Since 2008, Eskom has been able to secure 3?500MW from efficiency ­measures.

For the weekend at least, it seems Eskom has enough dry coal to keep the grid going.

But the load shedding will not stop the price from going up?–electricity prices are set to increase by 8% on April 1.

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