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Experts warn of power cuts from September, but Eskom says all is in order

23 August 2019 - 11:29 By ernest mabuza and miranda raaff
Experts have warned that the country faces power outages, but Eskom says it has a plan to avert them.
Experts have warned that the country faces power outages, but Eskom says it has a plan to avert them.
Image: Eskom

The country will be vulnerable to load-shedding at the end of August, when Eskom ramps up its plant-maintenance programme.

This is the view of energy expert Ted Blom, after Eskom board member Nelisiwe Magubane’s warning on Wednesday that an acceleration in economic growth in SA could trigger power cuts.

Another energy expert, Chris Yelland, said if an Eskom board member was concerned, “then we should all be concerned”. Yelland said the warning by Magubane needed to be taken seriously.

“I don’t think it’s a trivial statement. She happens to be a board member who is an electrical engineer and the former DG of the department of energy.

“She was making the point that there is a thin line between supply and demand at the moment. Any increase in economic growth could push us over the thin line between supply and demand,” Yelland said.

“To avoid load-shedding, customers need to use electricity wisely and not waste it, while on the supply side Eskom needs to make sure its plants are in good shape, regularly maintained and performing well, so that it can manage electricity supply very carefully. Then we can get through it.”

Yelland said that at the moment Eskom was getting by on a weak economy.

“If the economy grows, the demand for electricity will grow and the risk of load-shedding increases.

"Eskom cannot solve the problems of South Africa and therefore we need multiple suppliers of electricity,” Yelland said.

Blom said on Friday that the existing independent power producers, which currently supply power to the Eskom grid, could not supply extra power as they had reached full capacity.

The additional extra power from the renewable energy independent power producers could only be expected to come on stream in a year and a half, he said.

To ensure the stability of energy supply, Eskom should consider hiring gas turbines, which could be up and running in 45 to 60 days, and could supply an additional 5GW of power to the grid, he said.

The turbines do not need regular maintenance and would not be using diesel, such as the open-cycle gas turbines that Eskom uses during a power-supply crisis.

Blom said open-cycle gas turbines ran for a short period, before requiring maintenance, compared with gas turbines.

However, Eskom said there was no cause for alarm, despite admitting earlier this year that its generation system was not operating optimally.

The power utility said before winter that its generation system was not stable as it had not done adequate maintenance on power stations during the summer months.

However, spokesperson Dikatso Mothae said on Thursday that the nine-point plan announced by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan in April had ensured power outages were avoided in winter.

“There is a plan in place. Its full benefits will not be realised immediately. Although we had budgeted for 26 days of load-shedding during winter, we did not load-shed.

“As we go into summer, we plan to brief the public about our plans to bring the lights on during the summer,” Mothae said.