Eskom total blackout prevention plan

South Africa is unlikely to experience a total blackout from a grid collapse despite Eskom’s electricity generation challenges. 

This is because of the six “defensive barriers” that Eskom has to prevent a national blackout, with all six having to fail for a total grid collapse to occur. 

Eskom General Manager System Operator Isabel Fick told a webinar hosted by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) that the chances of a blackout are extremely low. 

A total grid collapse does not stem from a lack of generation capacity but rather from issues in the transmission network. 

“Many other areas across the world did have national blackouts. Nowhere will you see that national blackouts were because of a lack of capacity. In all those cases, it was a cascading event starting in the transmission space,” she said.

South Africa has previously had two regional blackouts. One in the Western Cape due to a transfer limit issue and another in KwaZulu-Natal due to extreme snowfall. 

Eskom has at least six barriers that prevent a national blackout ranging from equipment design and operation to emergency response. 

One such barrier is a permanent reserve margin of 2,200MW. Others include equipment design, operational procedures, and emergency response should the transmission network experience an issue. 

All six barriers will have to fail for a total blackout to occur. 

“Thereafter, we have to restore, should that ever happen. We have many plans in place because it will depend on exactly what state the network is in,” she said.

“We estimate that it will take between six and 14 days to restore the grid should we ever have a national blackout.”

Fick said Eskom’s grid is monitored in real-time to ensure the utility can react quickly to any failure. 

Vally Padayachee from the NRS Association
Vally Padayachee from the NRS Association

Experts echoed Fick’s assurances that Eskom’s grid is highly unlikely to fail. 

Professor Jan de Kock, a fellow of the South Africa Institute of Electrical Engineers, said, “Our grid at this stage is well managed, and we have excellent people investigating causes of small disturbances.”

“We are actually improving grid performance nearly on a daily basis,” he said.

Chairman of the Management Committee National Rationalised Specifications (NRS) Association of South Africa, Vally Padayachee, said the association “will not allow” any compromise of the system to the point of allowing a blackout.

“We are nowhere near a total grid collapse. Our mandate is to protect the national electricity grid of South Africa”, Padayachee said. 

“We will not hesitate to exercise this mandate at a moment’s notice, especially during a power system emergency, without fear or favour to prevent the national grid from going to a blackout situation…a total grid collapse.”

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) senior researcher Monique le Roux explained that the institution and Eskom have been working closely to ensure the system is as stable as possible.


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