Over 50% chance of total blackout, Nersa hears

A sunset over Johannesburg. (<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-913192p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Gil.K</a> / <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/editorial?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Shutterstock.com</a>)
A sunset over Johannesburg. (<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-913192p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Gil.K</a> / <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/editorial?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Shutterstock.com</a>)

Johannesburg - There is a more than 50% chance that the country's energy grid will suffer a total collapse soon, energy analyst Ted Blom said on Wednesday.

"I believe that the probability of a grid meltdown is more than 50%," he told a National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) panel at a public hearing in Johannesburg on Eskom's application for a further hike in tariffs.

"A total grid collapse is what we don't want to face because it will take you anything between a week and two weeks to recover, and I'm not even talking about the mayhem that will occur in the meantime."

He said this was a topic that had been treated quietly until last Wednesday, where Eskom said there was a zero possibility of a grid collapse.

Blom then gave the rundown of his reasoning.

"According to my estimate, the weekend or overnight demand is around about 22 GW (gigawatts)... I might be wrong by a couple of gigawatts, I am not too worried about that.

"The peak demand is 35.5 GW as we are told by Eskom - the winter demand," he said.

"These are the numbers that only came out in the last week from the 'war room' ... that the serviced, or what you and I know as roadworthy generator sets are roughly 40% of the fleet. Fair condition, 12% of the fleet. Poor condition, 21% of the fleet, critical condition, 26% of the fleet."

'The balance is poor and critical'

Blom said that if you add up the fair and roadworthy sets, you would get around 20 GW.

"So you have 20 GW... the balance is poor and critical," he said.

"The normal safety margin around the world is 15%, that is roughly 6.5 GW.

"Eskom's new winter strategy, they told us proudly last week, will only have a 1 000 MW safety margin, and it is roughly 2.5% of what is considered an appropriate safety margin.

"So according to that, and I am willing to challenge anybody... I am forecasting that there is a better than 50% probability of a total grid collapse."

Blom also ran through Eskom's "state of health", where he illustrated various shortfalls Eskom was suffering, including coal, water and maintenance .

"I don't think it will survive five years in its current state... you decide that for yourself," he said.

"I think it is patently clear that this Eskom is not sustainable, a fact that auditors should have whistle-blown on years ago, and I wonder why they haven't...  maybe they don't want to lose the audit contract."

He also said Eskom must not get its request for its hike.

The parastatal is applying for a 24.78% increase. It had already received a 12.6% increase, which would make up part of the 24.78%.

"As far as I am concerned, there is no legal basis for the re-opener [the application for the higher tariffs]."

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