Prepare for big electricity shock

Johannesburg - Eskom is so far behind with its maintenance that growing instability of its power stations is becoming a serious threat to the country, Die Burger reported on Monday.

The pace of maintenance will increase during the coming summer months and will lead to regular load shedding, Eskom said last week.

Non-official sources, however, are warning that the danger of a total collapse of power stations is becoming bigger.

The availability of power stations have been 75% so far this year, because of unplanned faults. Eskom hopes to be able to increase it to 77% for the rest of the year, said Dr Steve Lennon, head of sustainability at Eskom.

“It is supposed to be more than 85% to be operated safely, said a reliable Eskom source.

This makes matters very difficult for those managing the national control centre tasked with preventing a total collapse of the system by encouraging decreased usage or implementing load shedding.

Such a total collapse will be a national disaster and it will be very difficult to start the system up again, since none of SA’s neighbouring countries have enough power to help out with the restarting process,  said A’Louise van Deventer, manager of the national control centre, last week.

It is estimated that it would take at least two weeks to start the network up again, depending on various factors.

The danger is that the 13 coal powered stations are not being maintained, are working harder than their design capacity allows for, are not switched off often enough for vital maintenance and are old.

“The problem is that the fleet must work full-out for at least another 15 years, but could collapse completely before then,“ said a top official in the organisation.

Up to now Eskom has used expensive diesel generating units to supplement usage during maintenance work, but this cost R11.3bn in diesel during the latest financial year.

It is supposed to only spend R2.5bn on this energy source.

Eskom can, therefore, not use that much diesel again, and would have to try and buy energy from independent generators again.

An engineering consultant, who has been doing investigations at a number of the 13 coal powered stations since the beginning of the year, said the seriousness of the backlog in maintenance is shocking and greatly underestimated.

The explosion at the Duvha power station on March 30 this year is, according to him, an indication of what is to come.

Eskom remains completely silent on the reasons for the explosion and it is expected that it would take more than a year to repair this unit, with a power generation capacity of 600 MW.

“It certainly happened because maintenance work was not done,” said the engineer.

- Fin24

* For more business news in Afrikaans see Die Burger Sake.

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