Stage 3: Eskom under serious strain

4:20 update:

Cape Town - Eskom moved from stage 2 to stage 3 load shedding at 16:00 on Thursday, which is expected to continue until 23:00.

This is due to a further shortage of generation capacity as additional units have had to be taken out of service for unplanned maintenance caused by technical faults, the power utility said in a power alert.

In a tweet, Eskom said while it had implemented stage 3, it would only load shed as much as was necessary, indicating that some people might not feel the affects of that schedule.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe acknowledged that Thursday's load shedding was the worst since the Majuba silo collapsed at the start of November, 2014, which was the last time South Africa had stage 3 load shedding.

“In total we have over 87 units within the Eskom fleet, [and] many of those units in all 27 power stations are not working optimally at this stage," he told Fin24. "It’s almost all our power stations [that] are experiencing all sorts of problems at this stage."

“Our engineers are still confident that Koeberg’s unit 1 will be synchronised [on Thursday],” he said.

“The risk of a blackout is remote at this stage,” he said. “There are a number of measures that have been put in place to make sure that this does not happen. This includes mechanical and human resources that have been put in place so that we mitigate against a blackout.”

"The power system remains constrained and will remain so for the rest of this week," Eskom said in its power alert. "Any extra load or faults in the system may necessitate the need to go into load shedding. We therefore urge all electricity customers to reduce their consumption in order to reduce the severity of load shedding."

Phasiwe said all hands are on deck, especially at power station level, “where all the action is happening”.

“Many of our technicians and everyone else are working on site to make sure that we return back to service at all the units that are currently down,” he said.

“This also applies to managers. Some of them had to cancel all their meetings that were supposed to happen today. Managers are now on site to make sure that things are happening and to avoid any eventuality of a more drastic action or a reduction in terms of power usage.”  

Listen to the latest interview with Eskom's Phasiwe:

10:00 update:

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said as soon as planned maintenance was completed on various units, the power utility would downgrade the stage 2 load shedding depending on how much capacity they had compared to the demand.

Eskom earlier implemented stage 2 load shedding to run from 08:00 to 23:00, but this could be downgraded, said Phasiwe.

“As soon as those units come back online and there is some stability on the grid, we will lift the implementation of load shedding,” he said.

 “We started today on a low base in the sense that [this week] we lost four generators. In addition to that, we lost a few more generators this morning. As a result, we had to start the day with implementing stage 2 of load shedding.”

Stage 2 means Eskom needs 2000MW shed from the grid. Stage 2 impacts customers more than stage 1, as Eskom effectively cuts off power to customers twice a day for about two hours, instead of just once for the same time period.

Phasiwe said that while Koeberg’s unit 1 is due to start running optimally at some point on Thursday, this alone would not impact the grid.

Listen to the full interview:

“That unit can only produce 900MW and we have lost more than that, so chances are we are still going to be in the same situation.”

Phasiwe was on his way to a meeting with technicians, who would update him on the status of Koeberg’s unit 1.

“[Koeberg coming back on] is not going to resolve the problem, [because] we have [a] far deeper shortage than we will get from the 900MW.”

“We are running a very vulnerable power system, which is very unreliable."

The good news was that unit 6 of Medupi would be fully synchronised before the end of February, with full production expected in June, Phasiwe said via SMS. “Sere Wind Farm will be in operation in a few weeks, adding 100MW in the grid.”

Catching up on maintenance

He restated Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona’s tough words that the energy provider had ran a flawed maintenance programme for many years, “where we were deferring or delaying maintenance in some instances”.

“What we were trying to achieve at the time was for the company to keep the lights on at all costs,” he said. “Obviously that has come back to … haunt us, which is why we are in this situation.

“In April 2013, we changed this policy and decided to rather focus on the maintenance,” he said. “We have been doing maintenance since then, but because the backlog is just too high, that’s why we have many of these units tripping and causing the challenges we are seeing today.”

Eskom is not in the business of load shedding

Asked why Eskom doesn’t just stick to one harsh load shedding schedule for a week to allow consumers to plan for one bad week, as opposed to a touch-and-go situation, Phasiwe explained that goes against what Eskom stands for.

“We would rather focus on fulfilling our mandate, which is to provide electricity when we can,” he said.

"Eskom is not in the business of load shedding, Eskom is in the business of electricity," he told eNCA ealier.

“When we have difficulties like this week, we will implement load shedding,” he said. “So for us, the first prize really is to make sure we provide electricity and only implement some form of load shedding when we are not able to meet the demand."

Load shedding confusion explained

Many readers have commented that it was frustrating when Eskom moves from different stages or changes its mind on load shedding, because they plan their day around Eskom’s power alerts.

Phasiwe said Eskom only implements the various stages of load shedding according to what it needs to meet the demand. “If the demand is 30 000MW and we can only produce 28 000MW, then we start with stage 2, which is a shortage of 2 000MW,” he said.  

“When the system is relatively stable, then there is absolutely no reason why we should load shed,” he said. “So we only implement load shedding according to the shortage.”

07:10 upate:

Stage 2 load shedding started at 08:00 and will continue until 23:00 on Thursday, Eskom said in a power alert statement.

The power utility tweeted early on Thursday that it would make this move, after a day of stage 1 and 2 load shedding on Wednesday.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe told eNCA that Koeberg unit 1 was the overall cause of the situation, as the other generator trips do not have this unit as their normal back-up.

The nuclear power station's unit could start feeding power back into the grid on Thursday at any point, but this will not change the situation, Phasiwe told Fin24.

Phasiwe said Eskom did not want to simply implement load shedding for the next two weeks, allowing consumers to plan around this situation.

"Eskom is not in the business of load shedding, Eskom is in the business of electricity," he told eNCA ealier.

"We would rather limit the impact of load shedding through rotational load shedding," he said.

Listen to the latest interview with Phasiwe:

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