By Marianne Merten and Anna Cox
Johannesburg – Eskom has just celebrated 30 days of no load shedding and, if there are no major breakdowns at any of the stations, this could continue through summer.
“We can continue with no load shedding if the public and businesses assist us. We will be undergoing major maintenance work in the coming months, but we have proved that despite this, we can still do it,” said spokesman Khulu Phasiwe.
However, Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown said while the energy supply situation was improving, “it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods”, and Eskom should be given space to do the necessary maintenance.
On Friday, Eskom interim chief executive Brian Molefe said the tight slotting of blocks of planned maintenance alongside unexpected plant failures and blocks of steady supplies were paying off.
He said Eskom’s teams of “young engineers” were successfully managing a live system, logging what’s available, triggering recalculations and decisions on bringing additional power on to the grid.
Thus on September 2, when in addition to planned maintenance taking 4 608MW off the grid, another 6 757MW fell off because of unplanned crashes, the live system allowed for lights to remain on by bringing online 500MW to 600MW of the 2 000MW generated by gas turbines for an hour from 6.30pm.
“It’s like playing Tetris, quite literally,” said Molefe at a briefing on Friday, in reference to the Russian-designed 1980s computer puzzle of slotting blocks.
“It’s too simplistic to say load shedding (due to maintenance) or lights on. We need both. Load shedding is very expensive for South Africa. “It is the reason economists are saying the economy is growing slowly. Whatever happens, we’ll find the money to fund the maintenance programme,” he said.
Eskom’s strategy is based on several factors: 7 000MW will be off the grid in planned maintenance at any given time over the next year to catch up on backlogs many of South Africa’s ageing power generation plants require, securing new supplies through, for example, independent power provider contracts and managing demand.
According to Eskom’s planning, energy supplies will be tight until September 14 and again from May to August next year.
Meanwhile, the massive coal-power generators at Medupi and Kusile to bring 9 600MW to the grid, alongside the Ingula pumped-storage scheme’s contribution of 1 332MW, are behind schedule – and, in the case of the coal power stations, over budget.
Medupi and Kusile are four years behind schedule and expected to be fully online by 2019. Costs for Medupi stand at R105 billion, up from the initial R69bn price tag, and costs at Kusile are R118bn, up from R80bn, according to an Eskom presentation to the parliamentary public enterprises committee in April.
Brown acknowledged there’d been “insufficient planning” and if Medupi had been built on time, “we’d have averted the situation (of load shedding) or made it less”.
According to information presented at Friday’s briefing, Ingula units 3, 4, 2 and 1 are coming online only next year in April, May, July and August respectively, although according to the Eskom website, the project was to be “fully operational at the end of 2015”.
Medupi Unit 5, the second in the six-unit project, is now set to come into operation in two years’ time in September 2017, while Kusile Unit 1 is expected to contribute to the grid from August 2017, according to Friday’s Eskom documentation