Sudan blackout
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It is unfortunate that South Africans are once again experiencing loadshedding and have no idea as to why they are in the dark.

Following a few weeks of reliable power supply since the last power cuts in December, Eskom re-introduced loadshedding citing generation shortages.

The utility implementing loadshedding over the weekend during a time when demand is usually low – as many large power users are not operating during this time – raised concern and questions from the public.

Added to this is severity of the power cuts going from stage 2 to stage 4 with little warning in between. Read more: Eskom Board meets with Public Enterprises Minister Gordhan

To make sense of it all, ESI Africa engaged with energy stakeholders asking “why has this happened now?”

OUTA’s portfolio manager for energy, Ronald Chauke, pointed out that Eskom has an installed electricity generation capacity of 47,000MW. "Current peak demand is 28,880MW (2019), 34,242MW (2018) and 35,361MW (2017) – this demonstrates that Eskom is struggling to meet the demand that is declining," he said.

"There are a number of reasons why this is happening, including gross mismanagement, corruption and poor plant maintenance."

Re-introduction of load-shedding

Barry Bredenkamp, general manager for energy efficiency at SANEDI, expressed concern: “It is very unfortunate that we have seen the re-introduction of load-shedding by Eskom over the past week-end. Eskom has apparently conceded that it is highly unlikely that seven units would all fail at the same time and on the same day and this certainly needs to be investigated further."

According to Chauke, the reasons why South Africans found themselves in Stage 4 loadshedding predicament is that the following units tripped on Monday morning:

  • Medupi 5 & 6, exacerbated by the main contractor going under business rescue recently,
  • Grootvlei 1 & 2,
  • Majuba 4, and
  • Kriel 5.

Furthermore, the Duvha 3 and Lethabo 5 have been on long-term outage (offline) due to explosions that happened at the plants, he stated.

“Should we be surprised [about] the current loadshedding? Maybe not…” commented Roula Inglesi-Lotz, associate professor at the Department of Economics, University of Pretoria.

Restructuring of Eskom

Inglesi-Lotz noted that the timing of the loadshedding has raised a number of conspiracy linkages with pressure by trade unions that disagree with the restructuring of the power utility. Read more: Mixed reactions towards Eskom’s unbundling

It can be recalled that this development follows just days after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that there will be changes introduced at Eskom to “ensure the credibility of the turnaround plan and avoid a similar financial crisis in a few years' time".

“Whether political or technical reasons behind the loadshedding wave of 2019 that just hit the economy, the negative consequences are extensive not only in the short-run with firms’ operations constrained; but also, in the long-run, for the utility, with residential and industrial consumers now having higher motivation to adopt off-grid solutions to protect themselves from future energy supply insecurity,” she added.

In terms of other matters that are contributing to loadshedding; both Chauke and Inglesi-Lotz recalled that the majority of the coal-fired power stations have been experiencing coal shortages, aging infrastructure, as well as “low volumes of none diesel stocks to be used for emergency open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) electricity generation”.

"All above facts direct to a common denominator: lack of plan B, lack of proactive policy, lack of preparation for the worst-case scenario," said
Inglesi-Lotz.

Reducing energy consumption

Meanwhile, Bredenkamp said: “Irrespective of the root-cause of the sudden, harsh introduction of as much as 4,000MW of loadshedding yesterday [11 February], and in as far as it is possible, consumers need to assist by reducing their consumption of electrical energy during this difficult time.”

He said alternatives such as gas appliances and solar-operated lighting devices with battery storage should also be considered, to ‘lighten the load’.

“Although extremely inconvenient, we as South Africans should try and refrain from complaining too much and explore opportunities to mitigate the negative effects of the current situation, which we understand will be with us for the next few months,” he stated.