We don’t need to use less power, you need to generate more, Eskom

Over the many months of loadshedding, Eskom and municipalities have asked consumers to use less electricity and frankly, we’re sick of hearing that request, especially as power cuts continue to worsen.

Following warnings from government that loadshedding will be with South Africa for many years more, citizens have had to turn to back up power solutions. While some of these, such as solar power, provide independence from Eskom, the likes of UPS systems, however, require a connection to the mains to top up the battery after it’s depleted.

This, along with geysers, fridges and other equipment turning on when the power returns are a problem for Eskom and the nation’s power grids as City Power highlighted at the weekend. Residents in Johannesburg will be familiar with outages once the power returns leading to citizens being left without power for anywhere from 12 – 48 hours at a time.

“The main reason that is causing these trips is due to overloaded circuits. Simplified, tripping means the interruption in electricity supply which occurs when protective relays sense a fault, either from overload, equipment failure, cable fault or other factors. The circuit breaker trips in order to isolate the faulty lines from the rest of the healthy sections. This happens in order to avoid serious damage to the power infrastructure. To put the Substation back online from an overload-triggered trip, the team must first balance the load. That’s why even after the power has been duly restored, some areas will remain off until the in-rush current subsides,” City Power wrote at the weekend.

This makes sense especially when after four hours of loadshedding, geysers, fridges and other appliances are coming back online all demanding their share of power.

However, while unplugging your stuff is a good thing to do if only to protect your electronics from surges, the idea that our usage is the only problem is laughable.

We say this because Eskom has been unable to meet demand since the start of April.

Below we’ve compiled Eskom’s data that it shared as regards demand and its own capacity since the beginning of the month. The top line highlights the demand on a particular day while the red line show cases the available capacity. Of note is the fact that there is never more electricity than demand.

While usage is indeed increasing, this makes sense given that folks aren’t on holiday anymore and businesses have reopened. With that having been said, demand peaked at 30 747MW on Thursday and Eskom experienced a shortfall of nearly 7000MW. On the 8th April, however, Eskom was only 366MW short of demand.

The fact remains, however, that Eskom still wasn’t able to meet demand fully.

How then are South Africans meant to curtail their usage when they don’t even know how much generation capacity is available? Eskom’s shared the data above haphazardly with days between some updates. Beyond that, the energy availability factor changes on a dime with plans to suspend Stage 6 loadshedding at the weekend disintegrating as generation capacity plummeted.

All of this has happened in the month since Eskom very proudly announced that its coal-fired power stations were running at 70 percent energy availability.

On Sunday Eskom announced that generating units at Kriel and Koeberg power stations as well as units at Kendal, Kriel, Medupi and Tutuka were experiencing delays in returning those units to service. From 70 percent capacity to Stage 6 loadshedding in under a month, that has to be some sort of record but we’re too embarrassed to ask Guinness to check.

This wild fluctuation of energy availability means that if South Africans were to try and curtail their usage, we’d be stuck at home flicking switches on and off three times a day. The solution doesn’t rest with us citizens, it rests on government’s shoulders.

It’s the fault of Eskom and government that the power system is in complete and utter disarray. Switching off a low-power LED light when the utility is 300MW short of the national demand, ain’t helping.

The core of the problem is, there are 59 million South Africans and each and every one of them wants and frankly deserves access to electricity in 2023. Managing demand for that amount of people is an impossible task and Eskom can ask folks to switch off lights as much as it wants, the fact is that people need to see at night, they need to cook, they need to bathe and clean.

Our lives have already been inconvenienced by loadshedding for months, don’t for a second dare think asking South Africans to give up more so that Eskom can fix its problems is a possibility.

This isn’t High School Musical, you’re in this alone Eskom. Best you get to fixing this horror show.

[Image – Andre Hunter on Unsplash]


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