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    Brace for stage eight power cuts


    December 8, 2022 - Mandisa Nyathi

     

      Stage seven and eight load-shedding could be on the cards. Consumers are set to bear the brunt of Eskom's continued meltdown, putting further strain on households and businesses.

      The power utility announced it had breakdowns totalling 17 800MW of capacity, in addition to planned maintenance of 5 400MW, together taking 23 200MW, which translates to 47% of capacity, off the grid.

      Stage six means 6 000MW must be dropped from the grid to avoid a total system shutdown.

      Eskom has struggled to meet electricity demand in the country, implementing stage six for the fourth time this year. The power cuts would leave some users without power for more than 10 hours a day.

      According to highly placed sources in Eskom's leadership, the problems stem from the disunity in the utility's management, with members of the board and its leadership not seeing eye to eye.

      One source said since chief executive André de Ruyter was appointed, there had been a negative response to implementing his plans to improve the situation at the utility.

      "There is a general discomfort with the favour De Ruyter has received from the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan and, obviously, there are many people that are trying to expose that. There is no understanding on how things are going because de Ruyter showed he was unable to do this job early but he is still here," the source said.

      Many have called for De Ruyter to resign as load-shedding tears the economy apart.

      Maintenance problems

      Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshanthsa said the utility is delaying the upgrade and planned maintenance at Koeberg nuclear power station in Cape Town to Thursday afternoon in light of the stage six power cuts.

      "The shutdown will last about six months and will take about 950MW (equal to about one stage of load-shedding) off the grid for the duration of the outage."

      Eskom said in a statement Kusile power station in Mpumalanga was also undergoing maintenance.

      Energy analyst Hartmut Winkler said in an interview the planned maintenance at Koeberg over the next few months would worsen Eskom's situation.

      "Problem is Eskom is only able to hold the fort by trying to keep on repairing the plants that keep breaking down. We are talking about half the coal-generating capacity not being available … The repairs would take far too long and Eskom doesn't have that sort of money."

      Breakage outages

      Eskom said generating units at six power stations had "faced rapid breakdowns since Tuesday evening. These were at Mpumalanga power stations including Grootvlei, Duvha, Kendal, Kriel, Arnot and Tutuka.

      "Three units at Kusile, with combined generation capacity of 2 200MW, were shut down recently after unit one had a chimney collapse. Eskom cannot say when these units will be returned to service, but it will take at least a few months."

      One of the reasons for the power utility's problems is running out of money to buy diesel for its emergency generation fleet.

      Ten months into its financial year, Eskom announced it had already exceeded its diesel budget of R12 billion. However, PetroSA made 50 million litres of diesel available to the utility while it looked for a more permanent solution.

      Another source from the Eskom leadership added that management hoped to "see something happening from the top and find a new mindset to deal with the crisis because the leadership is currently failing to have confidence in [De Ruyter]."

      De Ruyter has blamed breakdowns at the utility on sabotage. Last week, he lambasted the National Prosecuting Authority for dragging its feet in prosecuting saboteurs.

      Corruption challenges

      Eskom's former generation executive Rhulani Mathebula revealed during a National Energy Regulator of South Africa electricity price determination methodology webinar last week that fraud, corruption, funding constraints, poor planning and shoddy work were crushing the power utility.

      Mathebula said Eskom's reliability maintenance programme, which

      De Ruyter introduced in 2020, was "failing faster than new capacity is being added".

      Energy Expert Anton Eberhard suggested on Twitter that fixing Eskom's old, badly maintained power units was hard, and this was not helped by loss of skills and deep corruption.

      "By comparison, facilitating private investment in new power is easy," he said.

      Mathebula said "Eskom faced fraud and corruption challenges internally and externally.

      He warned the impact of fraud and corruption, felt throughout the organisation, "undermines effort by engineers and other staff at Eskom".

      Mantshantsha added that Eskom had warned over the past three months that the toughest period of power cuts was coming. He said the situation would probably not get any easier over the next 12 months.

      The need for load-shedding depended on the status of the network at any given time to balance supply and demand.

      "It therefore does not automatically mean less or lower stages of load-shedding over the festive period. Eskom will endeavour to minimise load-shedding over this period," he said.

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