Why Stage 4 loadshedding happened and how Eskom hopes to keep the lights on in Winter

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Eskom’s top brass together with minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, held a press briefing in Johannesburg today outlining the current state of play within the utility.

Before explaining how it would avoid loadshedding with Winter approaching, Eskom spent some time explaining what happened between 14th and 23rd March that led to Stage 4 loadshedding.

To be quite honest, Eskom experienced a perfect storm of problems, literally speaking.

As we are all aware, lines supplying power to Eskom from the Cahora Bassa hydro-electric plant in Mozambique were damaged during Cyclone Idai.

In addition to this, Eskom experienced 16 boiler tube leaks in one week. The utility says that on average it has to tend to 10 – 12 boiler tube leaks in a month. For the month of March, Eskom experienced some 18 boiler tube leaks.

Had that not been enough, Eskom’s diesel supplies had run dry and unplanned outages stopped 10 000MW – 11 000MW from reaching the grid.

As we said, a perfect storm of problems.

Something interesting to note is that Eskom says that a third of the demand for electricity comes from Gauteng alone.

Is loadshedding coming back?

The answer is a resounding, maybe.

Eskom says that it has two scenarios for Winter. The first will see no loadshedding taking place but it relies on a number of things coming together.

For starters, unplanned outages must be kept under 9 500MW and planned outages cannot take more than 2 000 – 3 000MW from the grid.

The second scenario will see loadshedding take place but that might not be as bad as it sounds. Should unplanned outages exceed 9 500MW, there will be 26 days of Stage 1 loadshedding over a five month period. We must stress that this doesn’t mean 26 days of continuous loadshedding but rather that over approximately 150 days, 26 days will see Stage 1 loadshedding.

The plan is for loadshedding to be eliminated completely but as Gordhan points out, that requires an all hands on deck approach. The minister outlined four things that need to happen to turn the Eskom ship around.

For one, Gordhan says that the energy availability factor must be improved. The minister says that the power generating plants operated by Eskom are not operating as well as they should be.

The second and perhaps most obvious thing is stopping loadshedding altogether. That having been said, the minister warns that if loadshedding takes place it should be for a certain amount of days. Speaking as citizen’s this is good news. One of our biggest gripes with loadshedding is not knowing whether it will be happening from one day to the next. To Eskom’s credit the last bought of loadshedding saw improved communication, but that should be the norm.

Gordhan went on to say that Eskom must implement better maintenance structures.

Finally, and this one will not prove popular, Gordhan says that South Africans need to be more prudent in their energy usage. While we might not like to hear that we need to switch off our geyser every night (or morning) the upshot is that saving electricity means you pay less for power.

Eskom says that for Winter two generating units at Kusile and Medupi are expected to come online and repairs to the Cahora Bassa line are expected to be fully repaired by May. Ironically, Eskom says that the Winter months actually improve generating capacity thanks to lower ambient temperatures.

Credit where it’s due, Eskom appears to have a handle on the issues it is facing. There is most certainly a plan in place it now just needs to be implemented and monitored.

However, that having been said, the fact that it appeared as if Eskom was a ship lost in a storm without a port a month ago and only after public outcry did it seemingly address the issues is worrying. Like many South Africans we have to ask why the situation was allowed to get so bad. Yes, state capture was and is a massive boon on the government but that’s just not good enough.

Gordhan concluded the briefing by saying that trips and breakdowns can negatively impact the plans it has in place but the future looks hopeful and Eskom will work hard to keep the lights on when Winter comes.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.