Brace for stage 6 load-shedding in winter

South Africa will experience stage 6 load-shedding in winter as Eskom is pushed to do more maintenance on its plants, reducing its ability to meet demand. 

This is feedback from energy analyst professor Hartmut Winkler, who told the SABC that promises about the end of load-shedding are coming from all parties and are expected before an election. 

However, he explained that bringing load-shedding to an end would take a long time and very difficult decisions. 

“There is no single issue behind load-shedding. There are a whole lot of other things happening. The solution is long and complex,” Winkler said. 

He said the Electricity Minister is doing a good job explaining the situation to the public and has approached the issues methodically. 

“What is not coming across clearly enough is that this will take a long time to all fix. At the same time, the current approach is the right one to take.” 

Winkler said maintenance is key to this approach, and Eskom’s units will have to be taken offline for extended periods to ensure repairs are done properly and that the units do not trip as soon as they return to service. 

Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, in particular, are in poor condition. The number of breakdowns they experience is expected to increase due to the age of the power stations.

German consultancy group VGBE Energy spent four and a half months touring Eskom’s fleet plant by plant to determine what changes the utility should make to improve the performance of the individual stations. 

They also outlined why South Africans can expect load-shedding and problems at Eskom to worsen as the utility’s plants reach the end of their design life. 

Power plants are designed for a specific lifetime, which can vary from the design lifetime depending on the original quality and also on operation and maintenance conditions. 

For economic and technical reasons, coal-fired power plants are expected to have a service life of about 30 to 40 years. Eskom’s 15 coal-fired power plants have an average age of 42 years. 

This means Eskom can no longer delay maintenance at these coal-fired plants, or their components will begin to fail. 

“To adopt this approach, which they are now, to do as much maintenance as possible is exactly the right way to go about it,” Winkler said. 

“The downside is that we will have more load-shedding than we would need in the short term to conduct long-term maintenance.”

“Especially going into winter, it will mean that we will see stage 6 load-shedding several times. I am convinced of that. We have already seen earlier this year how quickly load-shedding can come back.”


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