How Eskom lost its load

2014-03-09 10:00

Thursday’s power crunch saw Eskom suffer an astonishing 10?000 megawatts in so-called unplanned outages – by far the worst crisis since 2008. That is more than a quarter of the power South Africa is physically able to produce at present.

It is also more than the power Eskom will get from the Medupi and Kusile power stations combined. The crisis struck in the week Eskom had earlier projected would be the least constrained on the power front before the system enters a period with literally no reserves at the end of March.

Although it was the fourth time since November Eskom has declared an emergency, it was the first “level three” emergency since 2008.

The wet coal that has in some cases been reduced to slurry was the last straw.

“The impression has been created this is about wet coal,” said Eskom chairman Zola Tsotsi at a media briefing on Friday.

“The bottom line is we have a vulnerable system and any shock can precipitate an emergency.”

Any unforeseen event ­taking 1?500MW out of the system going forward would cause another emergency. This zero-margin situation has set in despite the platinum strikes incidentally cutting about 400MW of demand, according to Eskom.

The state-owned power utility’s CEO, Brian Dames, added that even having five of the six planned Medupi units online this week would barely have stopped the load shedding.

Thursday’s crisis stemmed from the 4?000MW Kendal Power Station in Mpumalanga, the country’s largest single station until Medupi comes online. Kendal “lost” four of its six units on Wednesday night due to bad quality coal that had literally turned into sludge in the rain.

The Majuba Power Station then suffered an unrelated loss of power and the two incidents cut a massive 3?320MW from the system in the early hours of Thursday.

A single megawatt is enough to power roughly 200 “middle-income” households, according to Eskom.

In response to widespread indignation that Eskom can’t keep its coal dry, Dames ­replied that covering the stockpiles had been ­investigated and found to be far too expensive.

He implied that people do not realise how enormous a stockpile meant to last 45 days at a power station actually is.

Eskom technically has the capacity to generate 45?000MW, but with its aging fleet of power stations, up to a quarter of that is offline at any given time.

Last month, Dames ­updated the public on the power situation, predicting this week there would be 31?567MW available – assuming 6?500MW of unplanned outages and more than 4?500MW planned outages due to maintenance.

Instead, power supply dropped to below 29?500MW.

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