Eskom’s catastrophe: Key takeouts as rolling blackouts escalate to Stage 6

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Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Photo: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Photo: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

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Eskom’s generation capacity is severely constrained, further hampering the ailing power utility’s ability to keep the lights on.

Rolling blackouts were escalated to Stage 6 in the early hours of Sunday morning. This was after almost two weeks of flipping between stages 2 and 4.

Eskom experienced one its worst weeks yet, as it battled 45 breakdowns in seven days.

READ: Eskom: We’re doing whatever we can to keep the lights on

South Africa’s power crisis has deepened since the first bout of rolling blackouts in 2008, more than 14 years ago.

Briefing South Africa on Sunday, Eskom group CEO Andre de Ruyter and the power utility’s chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer painted a bleak picture of what lay ahead.

Of 45 units that broke down, 38 have returned to service so far.

South Africans will have to contend with Stage 6 load shedding until enough generating units have returned to safe operation.

We will definitely have a high stage of load shedding this week.

“In terms of the outlook this week, based again on the return of nearly 2GW today and not losing additional units, we believe that we may still be required to have Stage 6 load shedding tomorrow. The focus will be to ensure that our emergencies are protected,” Oberholzer said.

Sabotage?

Questions have been raised about whether Eskom’s recent woes are because of sabotage.

READ: How does Eskom's strike sabotage work

However, De Ruyter says there is no evidence to suggest this.

“At this stage, we have not seen any evidence of untoward activity leading to this spate of trips.”

Procuring additional generation capacity

Eskom will on Monday approach the market to procure additional generation capacity.

The decision was taken following an urgent board meeting on Saturday. Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan was in attendance.

De Ruyter said: 

In the case of IPPs (independent power producers), we have a very high degree of confidence that we can urgently procure more megawatts.

“Tomorrow, we will be approaching the market to procure whatever megawatts are available on an urgent basis. We think we can get about 1000 MW from the available generation capacity. Of course, not all of that is immediately available.

Depleting emergency reserves

A catastrophe is looming should Eskom dip too far into its emergency reserves, Oberholzer warned.

Escalating power outages were a necessity to protect the integrity of the system, as open-cycle gas turbines as well as water at the pump storage facilities needed to be shut down as “our water is extremely low”, Oberholzer said.

He added: “Should you deplete your emergency reserves, and the system is in need of those, there is a catastrophe that will happen. The system operator will ensure that at all times the integrity of the system is protected. This is why we had to lift the stage of load shedding.”

Additional R500 million allocated for the purchase of diesel

Diesel and dam levels were running extremely low this week as Eskom continued to “extensively” dip into its emergency reserves.

De Ruyter announced that an additional R500 million was made available to purchase more diesel.

READ: Tshwane, Eskom in war of words over missed payments

The diesel reserves are only set to be replenished later this week.

Challenges

Multiple trips of generating units and aging power stations that have long surpassed their expiry date have left Eskom in a predicament.

Seven units were shut down on Saturday alone.

Koeberg Power Station

Among the challenges in generating electricity, is a mechanical problem at the Koeberg Power Station’s unit 2.

“We have a challenge at Koeberg unit 2. It’s a mechanical problem that we need to fix to operate the plant safely. We are being extremely cautious,” De Ruyter said.

This unit will only return to service once it is safe, Oberholzer, added.

Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer. Photo: Freddy Mavunda/Ga
Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer. Photo: Freddy Mavunda/Gallo Images

Arnot Power Station

Unit 2 at this power station has been taken off the grid due to a boiler tube leak.

Kusile Power Station

In the second week of September, Kusile’s Unit 3 tripped several times.

On September 8, Kusile Unit 3 (720MW) tripped due to a recirculatory pump on the flue-gas desulphurisation plan failing. It tripped again the following day.

Eskom announced that this unit has since returned to the grid after it was repaired.

"The unit is ramping up as we speak. That will make a big difference."

Unit 2 at this power station tripped on Sunday morning and a decision was taken to implement Stage 6 blackouts.

Escalating Eskom tariffs

This week, the country also had to stomach the struggling power utility’s request to raise tariffs by almost one-third next year.

Eskom applied to energy regulator Nersa to hike tariffs by 32% on April 1, 2024.

READ: Eskom wants you to pay 30% more

For 2024, it is asking for a further increase of 10%.

Eskom was granted a 9.61% tariff hike for 2022. The power utility applied for a 20.5% increase.


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