Former Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer warned Ramaphosa of ‘dark days ahead’

Former Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer revealed that he warned President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019 that the country will face severe blackouts unless it gets additional baseload capacity.

Speaking to Biznews founder Alec Hogg, Oberholzer discussed his meeting with Ramaphosa after the country was hit with stage 6 load-shedding for the first time on 9 December 2019.

Ramaphosa was on a two-day state visit to Egypt but cut his trip short to deal with the load-shedding crisis the country was facing.

Oberholzer faced Ramaphosa on 11 December. He was seated with David Mabuza, Gwede Mantashe, and Pravin Gordhan.

He used an analogy of a car to explain Eskom’s struggling power plants to the three senior politicians.

“If you have an old car, you don’t expect it to perform at its best. Eskom’s generation plants are old,” he told Ramaphosa.

“Also, if you have a Mercedes, you would take it to a qualified Mercedes dealership with experienced mechanics and use genuine Mercedes spares.”

However, Eskom has not followed the Mercedes approach. Plants have not been properly maintained because the funds were used for other purposes.

The result was an unreliable and unpredictable power generation system prone to breakdowns, causing load-shedding.

Ramaphosa asked Oberholzer what they should do to address the problems and avoid facing the same situation again.

He responded, “Mr President, we urgently need 4,000 to 6,000MW of baseload capacity as soon as possible. If we fail to do so, dark days are ahead.”

Oberholzer’s warning fell on deaf ears and did not result in immediate action from the government to avoid further load-shedding.

“If you ask me how many thousand megawatts we have added since then, the answer is none,” Oberholzer said.

No plan to stop load-shedding

Jan Oberholzer
Former Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer

Oberholzer further told Alec Hogg that South Africa still lacks a comprehensive plan to prevent load-shedding.

“South Africa’s failure to develop a plan to avoid future load-shedding is concerning,” he said.

It’s essential for policymakers to accurately predict demand in the short-term and long-term, from the next three months to 50 years ahead.

“Without a clear understanding of future needs, it’s impossible to determine the necessary infrastructure requirements,” he said.

Eskom has around 14 coal-fired power plants with an average age of 44 years. Apart from the ageing generation fleets, the plants have also not been adequately maintained.

“Within the next 12 to 15 years, those producing approximately 20,000MW will reach the end of their operational life,” Oberholzer said.

“We need a comprehensive understanding of our infrastructure needs, considering factors such as gas, batteries, and other emerging technologies. Unfortunately, this is still lacking in our country.”


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