There is no end in sight to South Africa’s electricity problems and load shedding is only going to get worse this winter.
Things are going even more discouraging in Johannesburg, the economic heartland of South Africa, where residents and businesses also suffer from the city’s crumbling electricity infrastructure.
After years of mismanagement, the municipality’s electricians can no longer keep up with repairing all the reported power outages, and some households are sometimes left without electricity for a week or more.
And it’s not just the electricity that is running out in Johannesburg – many households were without water during the week because pumps could not keep up due to load shedding to fill storage dams.
The problems at Eskom mean that the country is expected to experience many more power outages this year than there were last year – which was already a record year.
But despite promises that Eskom’s management would in future be allowed to do what is necessary to solve the electricity problems without political interference, load shedding was suspended for a few hours on Friday so that members of Parliament could hold their Zoom meeting uninterrupted.
This illustrates once again that the power supplier is not allowed to make its own operational decisions, energy expert Chris Yelland told City Press.
“And that while the rest of us have to make a different plan when we expect load shedding,” he added angrily.
Eskom plans to decommission six units at its dilapidated coal-fired power stations this month for planned maintenance work.
Yelland, director of EE Business Intelligence, says this could worsen load shedding to stage 4 or 5. At stage 5, you can expect to be without power for more than seven hours a day.
Regular stage 4 and 5 outages, coupled with the dramatic increase in power outages in Johannesburg that are not directly due to load shedding, could further stunt the country’s fragile post-Covid-19 economy, warns economist Mike Schüssler.
He believes this could even lead to a further credit downgrade and total economic collapse.
Economist Lullu Krugel says load shedding could cost the country another 276 000 jobs this year. Unemployment is already at a record high.
In addition, energy regulator Nersa last week published an application from Eskom for comment to recover an additional R8.4 billion in power tariffs next year.
This is going to drive electricity tariffs for the consumer even higher, although the published information is still too limited to say by how much. Eskom claims that it is entitled to this due to an under-recovery in 2020/21.
Nersa will rule on this in August.
Eskom’s own figures show that the amount of load shedding this year is already equal to 50% of the total for last year – only five months into this year.
The power giant also admitted to City Press on Friday that it was behind with the so-called reliability maintenance that should restore the performance of the coal-fired power stations.
Work on just one more unit has been completed so far this year and another 35 – six per month – must be laid off before December.
In addition, the maintenance that is done does not produce the desired results. Eskom acknowledges that the performance of units after they have been serviced is poorer than expected.
Last week’s load shedding was caused by increased power consumption due to the cold weather and due to Eskom’s generating units breaking down one after another.
Problems were experienced at various power stations, especially on the Highveld. Units at the giant coal-fired power stations at Kriel, Arnot, Majuba, Tutuka and Duvha were all out of action.
In the Western Cape, one of the units at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station has been down since January due to a leak in one of the generators.
Eskom announced on Friday that Koeberg’s general manager, Velaphi Ntuli, was suspended due to repeated delays regarding the repairs. According to Eskom, Koeberg’s second unit will only be back in operation in two weeks’ time.
Eskom’s data show that the share of the fleet that is out of action because of unexpected breakdowns so far this year is 16% higher than last year’s average.
Only a fraction of the units that are out of order are down because of planned maintenance, mostly due to unexpected issues.