Eskom’s Power Play: Ascending Towards an Improved Grid Amidst Challenges

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa expressed optimism for the state-owned power utility, Eskom, as noticeable improvements emerge in its capacity to provide electricity to the nation.

Rising Capacity: A Turnaround for Eskom

During a media briefing this past Sunday (2 July), Ramokgopa drew attention to the steady growth in Eskom’s electricity capacity. It has risen to 29,000MW since the 26th of June – an increase that the minister labeled as “marginal but significant,” approximating around 1,300MW.

“What is encouraging for me is that we are beginning to maintain that previously the oscillation (between sufficient power and none) was too extreme now it is steady,” he stated. He also underscored that enhanced generation has allowed for an increased margin for scheduled maintenance.

Refuting any misconceptions that a decline in load shedding was due to a lack of maintenance, he emphasized that Eskom remains committed to a philosophy of regular and accurate maintenance.

Predictions and Reality: A Gap Filled by Improved Strategies

As winter approached, there were predictions of intensified stages of load shedding, with some speculations even reaching Stage 8. The demand was anticipated to peak between 35,000MW and 37,000MW. However, it has averaged closer to 32,000MW.

A host of factors contributed to the lower than expected load shedding, including higher electricity tariffs, restrained industry usage, wind energy generation due to stormy weather, changes in management, and an uptick in morale at Eskom.

Acknowledging Demand-Side Reduction

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While discussing the company’s improved generation capacity, the minister commended consumers, municipal electricity distribution companies, and businesses for reducing their demand, which eased the burden on Eskom.

Grid Development: The Need for Transmission Focus

Despite the good news at Eskom, Ramokgopa highlighted the necessity to focus on the transmission of electricity. He mentioned the impending implementation of a transmission development plan, with more details to be unveiled later.

However, financing the plan remains a challenge. Eskom’s Debt Relief Bill, currently awaiting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signature, could offer some relief. It aims to write off Eskom’s debt, which includes a full debt settlement requirement of R184 billion in three parts over the medium term and a direct takeover of the Eskom loan portfolio of R70 billion in 2025/26.

However, as per National Treasury’s conditions, Eskom is prohibited from borrowing money. As such, the company is tasked with finding innovative solutions to this problem.

A Three-Step Plan for Grid Development

Proposing a tripartite strategy for grid development, the minister envisions Eskom:

  1. Tapping into private sector liquidity,
  2. Ensuring it retains ownership of the grid,
  3. Maintaining sole control over the national grid’s system operations.

Ramokgopa warned of the biggest risk of potential grid collapse stemming from the transmission side, calling it the “single point of failure.”

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Professor Sampson Mamphweli, the head of the energy secretariat at the National Energy Development Institute, noted that while the country’s grid capacity suffices for original coal power stations, it falls short for the new entrants in renewables.

Comparing grid capacity to a water pipeline, Mamphweli stated, “If you try to push more water than it can carry, it essentially bursts,” thus underlining the need for reinforced grid capacity, as echoed by Ramokqopa.