Be warned, load-shedding will be with us for some time

A senior Eskom employee has warned that Eskom's turnaround will not happen overnight.
A senior Eskom employee has warned that Eskom's turnaround will not happen overnight.
Image: Gallo Images

With an ageing fleet, and financial and staffing constraints, power utility Eskom is far from escaping its current crisis.

This is according to Eskom's demand management senior general manager, Andrew Etzinger. He was speaking after the power utility implemented unprecedented stage 4 rotational power cuts on Monday, and then stage 3 power cuts on Tuesday.

"The root cause of the current situation is the exceptionally hard running (in the red zone) of Eskom's power stations over more than a decade, but particularly during and in the run-up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, to avoid load-shedding. This was due to the late decision to allow Eskom to build new plants," Etzinger said.

"This, together with financial constraints, has meant that many upgrades, known as 'mid-life refurbishment', could not be implemented on Eskom's ageing fleet. More than half the stations are more than 37 years old," Etzinger said.

Load-shedding, last seen in SA in December, was implemented on Sunday, starting with stage 2. This was upgraded to stage 4 on Monday and reduced to stage 3 on Tuesday: 3,000MW of electricity must be cut from the grid under stage 3, and 4,000MW under stage 4.

"The resultant technical issues are compounded by staffing constraints in terms of both skills and experience and this, together with a stressed and demoralised workforce, has contributed to trips related to human error," Etzinger said.

All of these factors, Etzinger said, have contributed to the current plant performance and the severely constrained system.

"It is crucial to realise that the No 1 priority of the system operator is to protect the system, and load-shedding is the last-resort option to protect the system from blackout."

He said Eskom had a 9-point recovery plan to turn around the performance of its generation fleet and "remains committed to providing affordable and reliable electricity to the best of its ability to support economic growth and stability".

"It is clear, that with an ageing fleet that has been overworked for many years and with severe system and financial constraints, the turnaround cannot occur overnight."

SA has suffered yet another day of consecutive power cuts caused by major problems at the main energy supplier Eskom. The government has only recently announced plans to split up the state-owned entity, but potential job cuts has made that unpopular with unions.

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