Eskom repairs behind higher load-shedding

South Africa’s return to deeper electricity outages is due to an increase in repairs at the state power utility’s plants that are needed to improve the reliability of the grid, according to the nation’s electricity minister. 

Eskom has implemented record power cuts this year mainly due to breakdowns at its coal-fired units. So-called stage six load-shedding, which removes 6,000 MW from the grid to prevent a total blackout, returned on Tuesday for the first time since mid-July.

Electricity demand declines at the end of South Africa’s winter, which creates a window to increase maintenance, and the schedule for that work needs to be implemented as planned, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said in an online briefing on Tuesday. 

“There will not be a shortcut to the ending of load-shedding,” he said. “Maintenance is the right thing to do.”

Planned outages, during which scheduled maintenance is conducted, increased by about 30% over the course of five days to reach 6,683 MW on 1 September, according to a presentation given during the briefing. That decreased to 5,467 MW on Tuesday. 

The National Union of Mineworkers, the biggest labour group at Eskom, criticized the company for not improving the electricity availability factor, an indicator of usable generation capacity.

The group demands “a measurable strategy” to end power cuts, it said in a statement.

A R254 billion debt-relief package announced in February’s budget aimed at strengthening Eskom’s balance sheet and covering all interest payments will allow the utility to spend what it needs to fix its plants, Ramokgopa said. The power company received a first instalment of R16 billion on 3 August.  


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