Eskom Fuels Load Shedding Battle with Diesel Amid Economic Woes

Eskom, South Africa’s beleaguered power utility, is allegedly increasing its diesel consumption in a bid to limit the intensity of load shedding stages, a move viewed by energy experts as a necessary evil to safeguard the country’s economy.

Yesterday, Eskom rolled out Stage 4 load shedding from 4pm to 5am the following morning, followed by Stage 2 load shedding until 4pm, indicating this would be a recurring pattern until further notice.

Diesel Budget Depletion

DA spokesperson on electricity, Samantha Graham-Maré, stated that Eskom had reportedly expended R12.4 billion from its R27.9 billion diesel budget within the first four months of the 2023/24 financial year, ending March 31, 2024.

Essential Move Amid Power Crisis

Clyde Mallinson, an energy expert, echoed the sentiment that while Eskom’s diesel use has escalated, it’s a necessary step in the power utility’s current predicament. Mallinson stated, “The economy can’t take these higher stages of load shedding, and in essence, we have to understand that the economy and businesses are more important to be sustained than whether Eskom is burning more diesel and going over their budget.”

He added that Eskom’s insufficient capacity for winter months necessitates burning more diesel to offset the energy shortfall, inflicting significant losses on the economy.

Ongoing Load Shedding: A Product of Ageing Infrastructure

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Mallinson also underscored the issue of Eskom’s ageing infrastructure and poor-performing coal fleet, suggesting that load shedding isn’t likely to end soon. “Eskom power stations have aged and unfortunately the problem at the power stations can’t be solved by maintenance and repairs alone. We need new power stations so that Eskom can have more capacity,” he said.

Multiple Factors Curbing Load-shedding Intensity

On the other hand, Professor Lwazi Ngubevana, director of the African Energy Leadership Centre, agreed on Eskom’s increased diesel usage but highlighted other factors in the reduction of load-shedding stages. These factors included improved performance at some power stations, possibly due to better management, lower winter temperatures resulting in better unit performance, and reduced planned maintenance.

“Sustained favourable wind conditions have meant sometimes up to 3GW delivered over relatively prolonged periods by wind Independent Power Producers, meaning another two or so stages of load shedding. A stagnant economy has also meant reduced energy demand,” Ngubevana concluded.