Load-shedding has been a major issue for South Africans over the years. The unpredictable blackouts can disrupt businesses, cause traffic havoc and force many households to light candles and endure the discomfort of being without power.
However, hope is on the horizon with the recent revelations by South Africa’s Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. During a media briefing on Thursday, 6 April 2023, Ramokgopa shared his observation during visits to Eskom’s eighteen power stations across the country between 20 March and 31 March 2023.
The gist of Ramokgopa’s message was that government needed to seriously consider investing in various coal power station technologies to improve performance and keep old coal power stations online for longer. The minister reiterated that calculations showed about 6,000MW of additional capacity was needed to plug the gap between supply and demand during the summer months. That could grow to as much as 10,000MW during winter periods.
Ramokgopa further shared that over 5,000MW could be brought back onto the grid merely by fixing unplanned breakdowns, as opposed to expanding capacity. In addition, he outlined the potential untapped capacity at various power stations that could be returned in the short term, including getting 1,000MW back at Kendal Power Station.
The Kendal Power Station’s major problem was that it had to be operated below its potential to keep emissions within approved environmental parameters. Ramokgopa highlighted that about 4,116MW could be generated from Kendal, but the energy availability factor stood at 46.75%, primarily due to emissions restrictions. He explained that if the station could run at its maximum capacity, then an additional 1,000MW would be available.
“There is a need for us to invest in the technology that can help us to ensure we run this unit without necessarily having to slow it down and without undermining our licencing requirements from an emissions point of view,” he said.
There are three options left- to keep running the units as is and preserve the environment, to increase output and infringe on environmental requirements, or apply to the authority to get exemptions to environmental requirements but invest in emissions-curbing technology over time.
Ramokgopa stressed that Eskom would require money to fix many of its generating problems and reduce load-shedding. He underlined the need to think outside the Eskom balance sheet and look at broader implications on the South African economy. Failure to invest in Eskom would have a long-term negative effect on the economy.
“The preoccupation can’t just be the Eskom balance sheet. You need to think about what is in the best interests of the sovereign. Compute what is the cost of one stage of load-shedding to the South African economy, and you will arrive at a number that justifies us making these investments for the future,” Ramokgopa said.
The minister promised to provide a detailed presentation to President Ramaphosa’s cabinet to address the challenges at Eskom’s power stations.
In addition, Ramokgopa supported the idea of keeping old coal-fired power stations running instead of decommissioning them. He noted that two stations, Tutuka and Lethabo, had different energy availability factors (EAFs) of roughly 26% and 74%, respectively, although they had been commissioned around the same time.
He said, “There is no correlation between the EAF and age. It is essential to dispel that myth. It is a function of our ability to maintain planned maintenance and invest in coal quality.”
In conclusion, load-shedding has been a long-standing problem in South Africa, negatively affecting businesses and household activities. The revelation by South Africa’s Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, has given South Africans a glimmer of hope. Through various interventions at Eskom’s power stations, additional capacity could be generated, making load-shedding less frequent. Although it will require significant investment, Ramokgopa underscored the need to think beyond the Eskom balance sheet and invest in the country’s future.