Months of load shedding ahead, Eskom warns
Power utility Eskom says that South Africans need to prepare themselves for prolonged periods of load shedding over the next few months as key power stations need to be pulled offline for vital maintenance.
Delivering a system update on Tuesday (15 November), Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said that starting over the next few weeks, the power utility will be embarking on several capital investment and major repair projects, which carry significant risks for the country’s generation capacity.
These projects will pull up to 2,300MW of generating capacity from the system, and as a result, Oberholzer said that the public should anticipate increased load shedding until the problems are resolved over the next six to 12 months.
“Due to the vulnerability and unpredictability of the power system, coupled with the major capital projects, maintenance and major repairs to be executed starting during the next few months, the risk of continued load shedding remains quite high,” Oberholzer said.
On 8 December 2022, Unit 1 of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station will be shut down for normal maintenance and refuelling, and the replacement of the three Steam Generators (SGR) as part of the long-term operation to extend the operating life of Africa’s only nuclear power station.
The most reliable of Eskom’s generation machines, the unit is anticipated to return to service during June 2023. This will remove 920MW of generation capacity from the national grid during this time.
This will add to the host of units that are down due to technical faults – totalling almost 3,000MW of energy – showing the massive challenge Eskom has meeting energy demand.
South Africa has experienced the worst year of load shedding on record, with 155 days of rolling blackouts since January.
Oberholzer highlighted the poor performance in generation in 2022 so far:
- There have been 468 trips;
- Unplanned load losses are sitting at 30.76%;
- Energy availability (EAF) is down to 58.5%;
- The group has experienced 5,930MW in partial load losses;
- R11.2 billion was spent on Open Cycle Gas Turbines at end of October – far exceeding the budget assigned for the full year.
The 23 October 2022 duct structural collapse that shut down Unit 1 of the Kusile Power Station – and the decision to delay the return to service of Units 2 and 3 as a precautionary measure – has inflicted another serious blow to Eskom’s efforts to improve the availability of electricity generation capacity and to reduce the implementation of load shedding.
This loss of the Kusile units has added additional strain to an already constrained generation system. Unit 4 is the only one currently on load at Kusile. Returning Kusile’s units to services is still “a few months away”, Eskom said.
“This is the reality of operating a shrunken generation system bereft of any reserve margin – every single breakdown pushes the whole system to the edge,” said Oberholzer.
“This loss of capacity, temporary as it is, will make for a very challenging summer season, particularly as this is our peak planned maintenance period where a number of units at various power stations have to be shut down to conduct much-needed maintenance.”
While Eskom works on returning these large units to service, it said the country will have to continue limping along to meet the demand for electricity, particularly over the next six to 12 months.
The table below outlines the units that will be offline for the coming months: