The TRUTH about South Africa's Power and Load Shedding
Most of the officials at ESKOM and at the power stations, which still produce power, are on holiday, and a skeleton repair team is out to analyse the damages and fix the transmission lines between South Africa and the Hydro Power Plant at Cahora Bassa in Mozambique. Meanwhile and back at the base, South African residents duck and dive between load-shed areas to give their children the school holiday they deserve…..
Ever tried to explain a six-year old that a power plug does not guarantee it also provides electricity? And why Mommy and Daddy do not use the garage remote in the moment and skip their morning coffee at their favourite café around the corner? Maybe not, but we think WE need to explain what is going on in the moment and what the outlook is.
The ANC, solely responsible for the current power outages, is campaigning for the upcoming elections while the crews at the power stations are wading waist-deep in problems to keep the electricity grid in South Africa alive.
Stages 1 – 4
Load-shedding stages 1 – 4 mean that the country is short between 1 000 MW and 4 000 MW in power. We reached the lower end of stage 4 recently and after the Cyclone “Idai” hit the border area between Mozambique and South Africa, the ancient transmission lines that are for a decade overdue to be serviced and upgraded, tore like overcooked Spaghetti in a South Easter. Close to 900 MW to be fed into our grid gone, but don’t listen to the BLF as the Cyclone has not been produced “by the white man”! Load Shedding stage 4 is therefore the current norm and not the exception to the rule as long as power generation and imports still leave a deficit of more than 4 GW.
The periods of power being cut are country-wide 2 hours at a time, plus up to 30 minutes for switching between grids with one exception: Johannesburg grids, which receive electricity from ESKOM are disconnected for 4 hours (4.4 hours) in line with the general supply schedule. The frequency of load shedding increases as higher Stages are used:
Stage 1 requires the least amount of load shedding, 3 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 3 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time.
Stage 2 will double the frequency of Stage 1, which means you will be scheduled for load shedding 6 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 6 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time
Stage 3 will increase the frequency of Stage 2 by 50%, which means you will be scheduled for load shedding 9 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 9 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time.
Stage 4 will double the frequency of Stage 2, which means you will be scheduled for load shedding 12 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 12 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time.
Stages 5 – 8
Stages 5 – 8, also known “extended load shedding stages”, speak a different language as during those stages the disconnection from the grid is unscheduled. Should Eskom decide to escalate load shedding to these schedules, South African residents will be without power multiple times a day (up to six times, or 12 hours), depending on the day’s schedule. At the end of 2018, Eskom revised its schedule to include up to eight different stages, with up to 8 000 MW shed from the national grid – effectively doubling the power cut frequency of stage 4. During stage 8 load shedding, consumers would be without power for 48 hours over four days, or 96 hours in eight days.
And if someone tells you that Nuclear Power could have avoided load shedding, send him back to school to learn to deal with numbers as the building of another nuclear power plant would be far from complete today …. especially in light of the fact that Medupi and Kusile are not even close to full operation and that after more than a decade…..!
Imported and Exported Power
Additional power is imported from Mozambique, but if the transmission lines fail, it cannot be fed into our grid, while the agreement to receive power from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Inga 3) will yield imports earliest 2030 and only if South Africa contributes 10% to the building costs and pays for 1 600km transmission lines. This power will be coming at a much higher cost than Renewable Energy.
Irrespective of our own situation, South Africa is bilaterally bound to provide / export electricity to seven countries: Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia.
Coal Quality and Availability
Finally, the coal currently provided to most power stations is of a significantly lower quality than required or has to be transported over distance. Eskom’s biggest contribution to the crisis is based on ideology. While the original mining charter required 26 percent black ownership, Eskom’s contracts imposed an additional ownership requirement; its coal suppliers had to be 51 percent black-owned.
The utility announced that it intended buying thermal coal from independent black-owned smaller producers, despite the demonstrated preference on the part of these companies for selling coal into the international market. In any case, this was more expensive, another cost to be passed on to South African consumers.
The largest negative effect of this policy is only just starting to play through. One of the power stations which has to have its coal supplies trucked across the country is Kusile, one of the two huge power stations introduced to solve the 2008 blackout. In keeping with best energy planning practice under the cost-plus model, Kusile is situated at the edge of a huge coal resource called New Largo. But there is no mine.
The owner of the New Largo licence, black-owned Seriti Resources – which purchased the asset from Anglo American last year – has yet to sign a coal supply contract with Eskom. Under the previous Anglo-American ownership, heads of agreement were briefly agreed before Eskom withdrew on the grounds that the planned mine did not meet its empowerment criteria. Attempts to negotiate an agreement for the 875-million-ton resource – capable of supplying Kusile for 50 years – go back to 2008.
Anyone with a passing understanding of the cost-plus model will know that it is simply bizarre to commission a ZAR 160bn power station without simultaneously securing coal supply.
The outlook is bleak as the problems run deep. Neglected maintenance and repair schedules for the majority of South Africa’s power stations urge Eskom to take them off the grid to repair and service. During those times no power will be fed into the grid from those stations. That can hurt the electricity supply up to 970 MW (whole load shedding stage) if one of the two units at the Nuclear Power Station in Koeberg have to go down for maintenance.
The coal supply chain is expensive, the quality partly poor and coal supply agreements corrupted and subject to current investigation.
We do not see a situation that eases up overnight. To the contrary, the looming winter will add significantly to the demand and load shedding will have serious side effects on the residents of South Africa including their health.
Load shedding stages 2 – 4 will become the norm and even those with UOPS, Battery-backed PV Solar Systems and generators will soon run out of money for diesel and capacity of the quickly deteriorating batteries, while incompetent and inexperienced young engineers filling BEE quotas will try to build, operate and repair South Africa’s power sources. The xenophobic pride of the ANC to deny foreign engineers the access to our problem is the therefore the ongoing second reason for the dark outlook.
Our utility, Eskom, is bankrupt and continue to fund the black fiscal hole borders on criminal offence in term of the insolvency legislation. Splitting it into Generation, Transmission and Distribution will only yield positive effects if the least lucrative division is sold to a party, who knows the business and has the financial power to turn it around. Not selling any division will only triple overheads.
The Dark Continent has its name as seen from space, with the lights of Joburg, Cape Town and Durban having been the exception for decades. Those light spots are now fading away and the major economic centres will join the stone ages and recede into the darkness of the remainder of the continent.
Well done ANC, hope you stocked up on candles and batteries to be able to still count the monetary spoils from two decades of corrupt administration. I hope the power goes off on 8 May, maybe some of your blind followers will then realise that you are not able to run this country and chase you to the gallows with pitchforks and lanterns as we have finally reached the status quo we had when Jan van Riebeek arrived!