High risk of load-shedding due to Eskom maintenance and 2,752 cases of vandalism

Electricity pylons on the highveld. File photo.
Electricity pylons on the highveld. File photo.

A worst-case scenario will result in Eskom having to spend R7.5bn for the seven months up to the end of August on running open-cycle gas turbines to keep load-shedding at stage 2 for no more than 90 days.

During its latest state-of-the-system briefing, in which the utility provided an update on its operational performance in recent months, CEO André de Ruyter said Eskom was experiencing more incidents of crime, theft, vandalism and sabotage on its transmission and distribution networks, resulting in losses and “increased risks for customer interruptions”.

In response to sabotage at Lethabo power station near Vereeniging, De Ruyter said Eskom deployed 450 additional security guards to better protect its assets. The utility has also employed drones with infrared cameras and installed intelligent cameras to monitor for “any untoward activity”. These additional security measures have been implemented at a cost of R50m.

Eskom has suffered 2,752 incidents of vandalism for the year to date, up to the end of December, at an estimated cost of R200m, said Segomoco Scheppers, the group’s executive for transmission.

Elevated risk of load-shedding

Presenting Eskom’s outlook for the period up to August, Scheppers cautioned the public to expect an elevated risk of load-shedding while the utility’s reliability maintenance programme was being implemented.

Eskom showed a forecast for load-shedding based on unplanned unavailability over the summer and winter months up to the end of August. Over the period, unplanned unavailability of 11,000MW to 12,000MW would result in no load-shedding, but R1.3bn would have to be spent on diesel to generate additional capacity using open-cycle gas turbines.

Under a worst-case scenario, for the summer months up to the end of March, unplanned unavailability increased to 14,000MW, resulting in 29 days of stage 2 load-shedding. From April to August, under an assumption of 13,000MW of unplanned unavailability, SA could experience 61 days of load-shedding.

These scenarios assumed stage 2 load-shedding would be implemented to try to limit supply interruptions. Eskom would have to spend about R7.5bn over seven months to run open-cycle gas turbines.

Scheppers said history had shown that it was not possible to use more than R1.2bn of diesel per month due to the cost of doing so, as well as the physical limitations of moving diesel to turbine stations. This meant that additional stages of load-shedding would have to be implemented in a worsening scenario.

Who pays for what

The 720MW of unavailable capacity due to the generating unit that exploded at the Medupi power station in August was contributing to a greater risk of load-shedding. De Ruyter said it would cost R2.5bn to repair Medupi unit 4, but that the facility was insured and Eskom was in discussion with its insurers to determine “who will pay for what”.

An investigation by Eskom showed that the explosion happened because of a failure by staff to comply with procedures. Action would be taken against individuals responsible for the event after following due process, he said.

“Preliminary plans indicate the unit will only return to service during August 2024. We continue to explore avenues to accelerate the recovery of the unit,” said Phillip Dukashe, the group executive for generation.

Koeberg maintenance outage

De Ruyter said maintenance outages at Koeberg would also result in additional capacity constraints.

Unit 2 of the Koeberg power station was taken offline in January for regular refuelling. A maintenance outage was scheduled to take place over the next five months, during which time unit 2’s 920MW contribution will not be available to supply the grid, further constraining an already tight supply. The Koeberg unit 1 outage, of a similar duration, was set to follow later in the year.

Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said while the utility would “do whatever it can to limit load-shedding”, it would not compromise on its planned maintenance programme. He said 51 days of load-shedding were implemented since April 1 2021, compared to 47 days for the 2021 financial year ended March 31 2021.

“The generation side of the business remains very challenging, specifically the availability of the coal-fired power stations due to plant unreliability and unpredictability, contributing to numerous breakdowns. The year-to-date energy availability factor of 62.9% is not ideal,” said Oberholzer.


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