Demystifying the Improbable Eskom Blackout: Experts Speak Out

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

In a time of heightened electricity generation difficulties, a panel of experts and industry leaders are alleviating fears of a nationwide grid collapse and blackout in South Africa.

The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) hosted a webinar aimed at separating myths from facts about the stability of the nation’s electricity grid.

Eskom’s Position on the Matter

Isabel Fick, Eskom’s General Manager System Operator, highlighted that although the country grapples with generation capacity issues, such predicaments have never resulted in blackouts globally.

“A national blackout is extremely improbable,” she insisted. She elaborated, “In every case where a national blackout occurred, it wasn’t due to capacity constraints but rather a cascading event in the transmission space.”

South Africa’s power woes have been regional, not national, she clarified, while rejecting any connection between these events and load shedding.

Eskom’s Defensive Measures Against Blackouts

Putting South African minds at ease, Fick informed that Eskom has at least six “defensive barriers” in place to forestall any blackout, including a constantly available reserve margin of 2200MW.

“All of these have to essentially fail before we get to a national blackout,” she pointed out. Fick detailed, “This includes the building and design phase of our equipment, how we operate it, and our emergency response.”

Also Read:   EcoFlow River 2 Comprehensive Review: Excellence in Portable Power

Even if a blackout were to occur, there are comprehensive and flexible plans in place for restoration, which, depending on the state of the network, would take between six to 14 days.

She reassured that Eskom’s network is monitored on a second-by-second basis to swiftly address any potential issue.

An Industry Perspective

Fellow of the South Africa Institute of Electrical Engineers Professor Jan de Kock echoed Fick’s sentiments, asserting that the possibility of a total grid collapse was highly unlikely due to the diligent work of Eskom’s staff.

“Our grid is well managed, and with every small disturbance investigated and every multiple unit trip inspected, we’re improving the grid’s performance daily,” he claimed.

The National Rationalised Specifications (NRS) Association of South Africa, a potent body that includes Eskom, eight metro municipalities, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA), and the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities of Southern Africa, also weighed in.

Chairman Vally Padayachee stated, “We are nowhere near a total grid collapse,” vowing that the association “will not hesitate to exercise this mandate at a moment’s notice, especially during a power system emergency, to prevent the national grid from going to a blackout situation.”

He further pledged, “We will not compromise the integrity of the grid in support of the system operator.”

Ongoing Research for Grid Stability

Adding another layer to the narrative, Monique le Roux, a senior researcher and electrical engineer at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), shed light on the ongoing efforts between CSIR and Eskom to ensure grid stability.

Also Read:   The Load Shedding Dilemma: Protecting Your Appliances

She elucidated, “Eskom leads research projects, and we support them. We aim to comfort people with the knowledge that ongoing studies are evaluating the system’s safety margins, its operational ability, and if necessary, mitigation measures.”

Le Roux praised the power system analysis software used by Eskom as a “very powerful tool” used globally to ensure the stable delivery of electricity.

As South Africa navigates its electricity generation challenges, the consensus among experts offers hope and reassurance that the nation’s grid is under capable stewardship. Amid the crisis, the collaboration between Eskom, various industry bodies, and research organizations instills confidence that South Africa will keep the lights on.