Eskom loadshedding
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Loadshedding is having a significant economic and social-psychological toll on South Africans, and with no end in sight, everyone is looking for answers from Eskom’s leadership.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2019/03/20– subscribe today

An open media briefing took place yesterday (Tuesday, 19 March) where South Africans thought they would be enlightened as to when loadshedding would cease.

During the briefing, hosted by Eskom executives and the Department of Public Enterprises, it was made clear that the national power supply is in a more precarious state than previously thought.

This was not what citizens were hoping to hear but speaking frankly about the challenges was far better than trying to sugar-coat this national threat.

The severity of the problem was highlighted by the fact that South Africa has made a mass purchase of diesel resources to run emergency power units.

We know that maintenance has fallen behind, crippling assets, and that eight generation units at three of Eskom’s power stations experienced burst boiler tubes. The natural disaster, cyclone Idai – which has affected hydropower coming from Mozambique – has added to Eskom’s inability to deliver. Topping all that, there is a planned union strike for early April, which the country can ill afford right now.

What did surprise me was the wording that Eskom’s chairman, Jabu Mabuza, chose when he exonerated renewable energy IPPs from having any hand in Eskom’s current ability to supply electricity.

He said: “In the revenue determination of what is allowable, there’s a budget of R30bn for IPPs. In so far as Eskom is concerned, what we buy from IPPs we recoup from the tariff.”

“We are neutral as far as Eskom is concerned – we pass it onto the consumer. If we spend more than R30bn, we get it back through the regulatory clearing account. We have many problems at Eskom; IPPs are not the cause of our problems.”

That is correct, IPPs have not caused the financial, operational, and mismanagement of the state-owned utility but to say that the procurement of renewable energy is cost-neutral is incorrect.

I’m not questioning the role that IPPs play in adding to the security of electricity supply. What is a concern is the message to the general public from Mabuza, who is not fully conversant on the technical side of the power utility, stating that IPPs are not going to impact their pockets.

In his statement, which comes across as quite flippant, there is no mention of the system costs to Eskom. These system costs are what secure the grid’s ability to operate seamlessly between the various technologies, whether coal, gas, wind, solar, nuclear, hydro or pumped storage.

Therefore, no technology is ‘cost neutral’.  There will always be variable and fixed costs, which are then filtered down to the consumer in the form of cost-reflective tariffs.

Regardless of the pursuit to increase renewable energy capacity, our concern right now is the short-term quick fix. According to Andrew Etzinger (a senior manager at Eskom with far more technical knowledge of the system than Mabuza), rotational loadshedding is expected to be scaled back in the coming days.

Loadshedding will continue for some time, but Etzinger has based his assumption on the work that Eskom’s technical team are undertaking. Energy expert, Ted Blom, has stated that until Eskom overcomes their coal procurement contract challenges “we are looking at this [loadshedding] for another five years”.

In your opinion, what should be prioritised to overcome loadshedding?

Read the previous note from the editor here.