17-hour outages possible

2018-11-21 15:30

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There’s no smoke without fire.

That is the ominous warning from energy experts after the struggling power utility Eskom extended its load shedding roster from four stages of severity to eight.

While the power utility said rolling out the roster was only a precautionary measure, energy experts say it may be time to stock up on your candles and batteries.

Among the schedules the power utility released last week, it slipped in a roster providing for five-to-eight-stage load shedding, where previously there were only four stages.

This shock follows a stage one roll-out in many parts of the country at the weekend, although Pietermaritzburg was not affected.

In terms of the schedules, stage eight load shedding would leave a specific consumer without power for six or seven of the 12 load shedding slots per day.

Each slot is two-and-a-half hours long, with consecutive slots overlapping by half an hour.

That means stage eight could result in 17,5-hour outages for any group of consumers.

“We certainly do have cause for concern,” said independent energy expert Chris Yelland.

“This is not just a vague possibility. It’s real. We had load shedding on Sunday, which is traditionally a very low demand day because most factories are closed,” he said.

Yelland said the extended roster was an indication of the severity of the situation. “I don’t want to read too much into it but somebody is making plans for these possibilities and putting up that roster is an indicator,” he said.

Stage four allows up to 4 000 megawatts (MW) of demand to be shed, or cut, while stage eight provides for up to 8 000 MW to be shed.

On Tuesday, an Eskom media desk statement said the Disaster Management Act requires Eskom to develop contingency plans for identified major incidents.

“A severe supply constraint is one of these, for which Eskom has plans in place,” read the statement.

It said that after 2015, Eskom and municipalities identified the need to extend the planning in place related to the number of stages of load shedding.

“The national code was subsequently updated after significant engagement with stakeholders in 2016/17. This has been published as NRS048-9 Ed.2 and it caters for eight stages of load shedding. This is currently with Nersa for approval as a regulatory requirement via its administrative processes.”

Energy consultant Ted Blom said the issues at Eskom were severe on three fronts: coal, boilers and finances.

“The problems are so severe that I would be surprised if Eskom in its current format survives past the end of its financial year.

“It’s really in deep trouble.”

Blom said the coal will last for five years because it takes five years for Eskom to open up one new coal mine.

“They don’t have the money to open up their front door, never mind the new coal mine. They keep on buying new coal from every Tom, Dick and Harry and it’s stuffing up the boilers. They haven’t got the money to fix the boilers.”

Blom said the 11 boilers at three power stations are in ruins.

Eskom said that most metros have developed load shedding schedules that cater for stages one to eight, adding that not all municipalities have formally published their extended load shedding schedules yet.

Asked about the probability of stage eight load shedding against this background, the utility said the likelihood of reaching this stage is low. “As a prudent system operator, Eskom ensures that its contingency planning addresses several high-impact, low-probability incidents such as this. This planning includes preparedness reviews and simulation exercises (as is standard practice for other incidents such as a nuclear incident or a national blackout).”

Eskom said while it was currently not load shedding, the system remains tight with a low possibility of load shedding for the rest of week.

Eskom says 10 of its coal plants have less than 20 days’ coal supply.

Stage 8 to be 'catastrophic'

Pietermari Chamber of Business (PCB) chief executive Melanie Veness said in the current tough economic times, the new stage eight shedding would be “catastrophic”. “It’s not just about not having power for a period of time, the interruption of process is so damaging for businesses. If you are a manufacturer, powering up and powering down of a plant is massively impactful on business,” said Veness.

According to unconfirmed sources, Msunduzi did not implement loadshedding on Sunday as the City already had several electricity faults which meant it already had a reduced demand. 

Intese storm causes power outage

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the city experienced power outages due to fallen trees after an intense storm. A statement from Msunduzi Municipality warned affected residents to be cautious and not touch live cabling.

“Electricity department is working hard to do damage control and in serious chaos, your patience is appreciated if affected by an outage,” read the statement.

“The problems are so severe that I would be surprised if Eskom in its current format survives past the end of its financial year. It’s really in deep trouble.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  load shedding
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