Following an urgent board meeting while Stage 5 load shedding was biting on Saturday 17 September, Eskom will on Monday start to urgently procure additional energy from existing independent power producers.
This announcement was made during an emergency media briefing by Eskom group chief executive André de Ruyter on Sunday morning. He hopes to access about 1 000MW from existing independent power producers like Sasol and Sappi and hopes to have it online within a week or two.
The struggling utility was forced to intensify load shedding to Stage 6 around 4:00 on Sunday morning after two further coal-fired generating units tripped.
This means South Africans are left without electricity for around a third of the day.
Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said that while staff are working flat-out to return units to service, it must replenish its emergency reserves and high levels of load shedding are expected for most of the coming week.
At the time of the media briefing Eskom had 7 062MW of generation capacity on planned maintenance outage and 15 630MW was unavailable due to breakdowns. The expected peak evening demand was 26 399MW, which left a shortfall of 5 282MW.
While Eskom was hoping to have the dam levels of its emergency pump storage units replenished by Monday morning the diesel levels at its Ankerlig open-cycle gas turbines (OCGT) was at a mere 32%. Due to the logistics of transporting diesel by road, this was only expected to recover later in the coming week. The diesel level at the other OCGT plant Gourikwa was at 85%.
Oberholzer explained that depleting the 6 000MW of emergency reserves could result in a total blackout if they were unavailable when needed by the system.
Eskom earlier disclosed that it has already depleted the whole diesel budget for the year up to end of March 2023. According to Oberholzer the CFO Calib Cassim has made a further R550 million available despite Eskom’s liquidity problems.
De Ruyter gave the assurance that there is no indication the current generation shortage is due to sabotage.
The CEO added that Eskom has asked municipalities to identify non-essential loads that can be switched off and will engage organised business for further energy savings like limiting the period lighting, heating and air conditioning runs.
He called on households to use electricity sparingly and switch off non-essential appliances, especially during the morning and evening peaks.
Isabel Fick, general manager of the system operator’s office said if load shedding intensifies beyond the 8 stages provided for in the national standard, the system operator will instruct all provinces to strike off further load.
De Ruyter said load shedding is done to prevent such a situation and a national black-out.
Oberholzer described how multiple units broke down over the previous two weeks – more than 40 per week – to bring the utility to the current crisis. He said the coal-fired power stations was being run at a utilisation rate of more than 90% while the international benchmark is 65%. The units are brought back to service, but some break down again.
Ten generating units with a total capacity of 6 000MW are currently run with known defects, of which 2 000MW is at a high risk of breakdown.
Eskom hopes to bring 18 units representing 9 000MW back to service in the next five to six days, Oberholzer said. “It is all hands on deck to get this done.”