Maintenance is a religion and Eskom’s a sinner – Matona

Eskom is like a car that has been kept running without a service until it breaks down, says the power utility’s CEO Tshediso Matona.

Matona today told journalists in Joburg that Eskom has made the “hard and rational” decision to impose load shedding whenever it has to in order to fix and maintain its cantankerous fleet of power stations.

Not having done this earlier is what has landed South Africa in the trouble of snowballing power plant failures in the first place, Matona said at Eskom’s quarterly “state of the system” briefing.

Eskom is basically 5?000MW short if it wants to keep the lights on and keep up a schedule of maintenance.

It has been using its diesel generators to make up 2?000MW of that.

Much of the other 3?000MW, almost a tenth of South Africa’s entire power demand, will have to be won through load shedding.

The use of diesel will likely also have to be scaled back.

The alternative is a “catastrophe” in the form of a total national blackout if too many stations fail.

Today’s message was “pretty much the same” as before, Matona admitted.

“It all comes down to maintenance.”

Maintenance was the company’s “religion” and the problem was that, since 2008, Eskom “has not stayed faithful”, he said.

In that year, South Africa experienced a power crisis that marked the beginning of a policy of keeping the lights on “at all costs”. This has mostly meant deferring maintenance and burning diesel to augment the power supply.

Now Matona is promising a zealous adherence to all maintenance plans, come hell or high water.

If that means load shedding in order to shut a plant down for repairs, then so be it.

Fixing the parlous state of the power fleet “will take about as long as it took to create the problem – years and years”, he said.

Eskom also released its projection of the power situation for the Summer period today.

It is expecting a “high probability of load shedding” on every single week day starting next week up to the end of April.

“It is not whether load shedding will be part of our life, it is how we will deal with it, said Matona.

Unlike his predecessor Brian Dames, Matona is not a lifelong Eskom hand and joined the company from the department of public enterprises, Eskom’s sole shareholder.

But, responding to questions, Matona – who joined the utility less than four months ago – refused to lay blame.

“This is not a judgement” on the previous management, he said.

When he had been at the department it had been impossible for him to appreciate the fundamental problem at Eskom the way he now does, said Matona.

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