Eskom explains what exactly is wrong with South Africa

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As Eskom started to spill its weekend loadshedding over into Monday, the parastatal held a press conference on Monday afternoon to highlight the specific issues that has been plaguing South Africa’s electricity supply.

Eskom explained two weeks ago that it would be loadshedding over weekends as that made more sense to them, so Monday morning’s blackout came as a bit of a surprise. While the national grid has been constrained for some time, it seemed that Eskom’s alerts went from stable on last week Monday to a critical Stage 3 on Friday – without explanation.

According to eNCA reporter Nickolaus Bauer, “Eskom last enforced Stage 3 loadshedding back in 2008. We haven’t seen this type of crisis for 6 years,” he wrote on Twitter just before the press conference was about to get underway.

Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona started the press briefing by apologising for the inconvenience caused, and reiterated that loadshedding will primarily take place over weekends.

“We recognise that during the holiday season the weekends do matter, but we think we have to choose the better of two evils and rather loadshed over weekends than during the week as well. It really pains us to have to loadshed. We know the public does not take kindly to it. It is not something we derive pleasure out of,” he said.

Matona explained that loadshedding is necessary, otherwise the complete national grid will come to a meltdown, which will take several weeks to resolve.

“It is important to accept that a major part of the squeeze is that we just have too many of our plants are out, which was unplanned. A complete black out will be an extremely catastrophic event and will take weeks to solve and is too ghastly to comprehend. We want to retreat from the brink of disaster.”

The CEO laid some of the blame of the current power issues at the feet of 2010’s World Cup. He explained that Eskom had to work the plants very hard in order to prevent blackouts, which resulted in the fact that no maintenance could have been done on plants for the duration of the tournament.

“This has come back to haunt us. For as long as we have these old plants and money constraints we will live with the risk of a constrained system.”

During previous blackouts in the summer, Eskom said that wet coal was the culprit – and Matona is stressing the same point again. “Coal quality and the logistics of coal is another challenge, especially during this time of heavy rain.”

To explain the loadshedding of last week Thursday, diesel and the delivery thereof was the problem: “On Thursday we had the system problem of diesel logistics,” he said. It was explained to the press during the briefing that  Eskom burnt 140 million liters of diesel to create electricity in November. “A lot of risks materialised on Thursday, some of which were in our control, and others which were not, impacting power supply reliability.” In terms of last week Friday’s Stage 3 shedding, the issues continued from the Thursday, and snowballed into a critical stage.

But it seems as if it’s not all bad news, although it could be better: “We have successfully recovered our dam levels and our diesel levels, although it is not at the ideal. There will be some units that have to be shut down for maintenance still – that is unavoidable, but we should be able to cope during the rest of December. We know the public wants to know if they will have to have cold turkey on Christmas. Beyond this week I am hoping everything we are doing Monday and Tuesday would be able to see us through. If all goes well we might not have to load shed again over the weekend.”

While the turkey might not be cold on the table this year, there is a very real chance that February and March next year will see loadshedding in earnest again – in short, Eskom’s money is drying up. “February and March are looking pretty concerning because by that stage financial levers to keep the lights on will become a major constraint regarding budget.”

[Image - News24]
[Image – News24]
Charlie Fripp

Charlie Fripp

Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.