Nicolette Dirk, Justmoney.co.za
Yesterday South Africans were greeted with unexpected power outages due to Eskom’s maintenance work on their supply units.
Throughout the country there were power disruptions that started at 8 am and ended, in most areas, by 10pm last night. This has been the first time that Eskom rolled out blackout schedules since 2008.
In a statement, the Minister of Public enterprise Malusi Gigaba, said that over the last week, Eskom depleted dry coal stockpiles at some power stations due to the rainy weather conditions. This contributed to severe system constraints due to lower power output as a result of wet and poor quality coal.
Eskom spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe, said they had bought coal from Mozambique but even that was not enough to prevent the coal shortage problem.
On Wednesday evening, Eskom lost three units at Kendal Power Station (in Mpumalanga) and had to reduce output at other power stations, Duvha in particular which has its conveyor belts being reconstructed following a fire in December 2013.
“Dam levels are also low at Drakensberg and Palmiet Pumped Storage power stations. These plants act as reserves during peak plants and due to the constraints they were used beyond the peak times hence the low reserves at the dams,” said Gigaba.
Imported energy supply
The power problem was exacerbated by the loss of imports via Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), the Zimbabwean electricity utility.
Gigaba said that after all reserves were used and after a reduction by key industrial customers, an additional reduction in demand of about 3000mwMW was needed to balance the electricity system.
“To make provision for the shortfall of 3000mw0MW Eskom’s emergency protocol requires that all customers (Eskom and municipality customers) reduce their demand by 20% through rotational load shedding,” said Gigaba.
Eskom anticipated that the emergency would continue until after yesterday evening’s peak hour. The energy powerhouse has since lifted the power emergency at 10pm last night.
What the economists say
Dr Azar Jammine, chief economist at Econometrix said the unusually heavy rains in the nNorth of the country was unfortunate, at a time when Eskom had been undertaking considerable maintenance work on several power stations.
“’One does indeed believe that it is the wetness of coal earmarked for coal fired power stations that has tilted the strain on the grid to the point where load shedding has had to be reintroduced,” said Jammine.
He added that it is premature to panic as to some extent a form of load shedding had already been in place for several months in the form of requests by Eskom to major power users to restrict production and hence electricity demand.
“The utility is better placed than it was six years ago to forewarn electricity users on when to expect outages which ought to make planning a little easier. It is also hoped that the duration of outages will be short enough to allow electricity users to compensate by altering their times of work,” said Jammine.
But he added that it is also too early to feel confident about the temporal nature of current load shedding, but at this stage he did not predict downwards economic forecasts for 2014 on the basis of the latest news.
“At the same time, it is important to recognise that events such as this depress longer term economic growth by reducing the incentive of businesses to invest in projects longer term because of insecurity of power supply,” said Jammine.
Will there be more load shedding this year?
Eskom spokesperson Phasiwe added that there could be more load shedding this year. He explained that Eskom has plans to work on Koeberg’s units at the end of March.