Load-shedding will be back

Despite Eskom power cuts having eased in recent weeks, South Africans can expect intermittent load-shedding to continue until the utility’s long-term problems are resolved.

This is feedback from energy expert Chris Yelland, who told Newzroom Afrika that some credit must be given for Eskom’s improved performance in the past few weeks.

By the time of writing, load-shedding has been suspended for the past 20 days, according to The Outlier.

Yelland explained that the data shows this has not been a fluke – Eskom’s unplanned breakdowns for the first 13 weeks of this year are consistently lower than for the first 13 weeks of last year. 

This has led to more energy availability and, therefore, less load-shedding.

Yelland said this improved performance can be explained by reintroducing three units at Kusile to the grid.

These units were broken down at this time last year and were temporarily reconnected to the grid near the end of 2023. 

These three units constitute around 2,000 MW and there is about a 2,000 MW reduction in unplanned breakdowns. 

“So, this tells us things are better in terms of breakdowns, but the plants beyond Kusile’s units are performing about the same as last year, and last year was a pretty bad year,” he said.

In addition, Yelland explained that the only reason Kusile’s units have been reconnected is due to a temporary solution Eskom implemented.

He said Eskom bypassed the flue-gas desulphurisation plant – used to limit the release of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from coal-fired power plants – which explains Kusile’s improved performance.

However, this is only a temporary solution, and Kusile’s units will have to be taken offline again to implement the long-term solution, or Eskom risks breaking the law.

“Each unit will be shut down for about three months to put in place the so-called final solution, which hopefully will return these three units back into service thereafter on a permanent basis,” Yelland said. 

“But ultimately, the flue-gas desulfurisation units have got to be put back into service because, without them, the level of pollution from these three units is extremely high, damaging to human health and effectively breaking the law.” 

Eskom was granted a temporary exemption from the law that requires these desulphurisation units to be installed whilst the utility puts in place a permanent solution.

“The temporary arrangement will probably last towards about the end of this year when each unit will be shut down in sequence,” Yelland said.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland

In addition, he said part of the reason for the improved load-shedding over recent weeks is lower demand than last year.

In other words, South Africans have required less electricity from Eskom, making it easier for the utility to meet demand.

Yelland said this is likely because so many South Africans who have been able to afford it have switched to alternative energy sources like rooftop solar to lessen their dependence on Eskom.

Therefore, Eskom’s performance has not necessarily improved. Rather, more consumers have turned to self-generation.

However, Yelland believes South Africans will see a reduction in the intensity and frequency of load-shedding.

“Eskom, the team there and the Necom team are doing a lot of work in this field, and it is going to start paying off,” he said.

The pay-off can already be seen through the rapid increase in self-generation, which has been enabled by a relaxation of government regulations.

Things are improving, but you know you can expect intermittent load-shedding until these problems are sorted out, and we have to do the right thing for a long time to actually resolve them permanently,” Yelland said.


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