Eskom pushes load shedding to Stage 4

FIFI PETERS: Load shedding has fast become a normal part of living and a normal experience of living in South Africa nowadays, with Eskom announcing the country will now experience load shedding until Friday. This follows the failure of units at its Tutuka and Majuba power stations earlier this morning [Tuesday, April 19].

We have Rhulani Mathebula, the general manager for generation at Eskom for more. Rhulani, thanks so much for your time. For our listeners who couldn’t listen to the briefing that Eskom held a little earlier – either because of work commitments or because they were at home with no power and couldn’t tune in – please help us understand how we got to this particular point in which we are at Stage 4 of load shedding.

RHULANI MATHEBULA: Good evening and good evening to you and your listeners. We had implemented Stage 2 over the weekend [because of] the demand. I believe it was due to the weather as the temperature was getting a bit colder. We started seeing demand rising and we had to implement Stage 2 to be able to safeguard the grid. However, as we [were] attempting recovery, we realised we had lost additional generators, which resulted in us implementing Stage 4 actually this morning, which was to ensure that we did not put the grid at risk and actually put South Africa at a risk of a blackout.

FIFI PETERS: Sure. How did you lose these two units? I imagine you talk about Tutuka and Majuba – there was a failure – what triggered the failure?

RHULANI MATHEBULA: The station Majuba, actually Tutuka as well as Camden, in the past few days experienced [huge] rainfall. The rainfall was so huge in the area where the stations are based, which made it difficult for handling of the coal as well as the ash. So the wet coal into the boilers had contributed severely to us losing this unit this morning.

FIFI PETERS: We are at Stage 4. Is there a risk that things would get worse from here this week?

RHULANI MATHEBULA: We have got a number of units that are planned to return [to service]. Actually, as of today we had planned to return three units, one at Camden, one at Tutuka and one at Arnot. All those machines have been returned. We have got a number of units planned to return tomorrow as well and, based on the successful RTS [returns to service] of the units that we had today, and the ones that are planned tomorrow, as well as on Thursday, we do not see that the situation will get worse.

What we are looking forward to is to be able to reduce the stage or completely call off load shedding by Friday.

FIFI PETERS: Just the situation in KZN regarding the flooding – has that had any impact on any of your operations?

RHULANI MATHEBULA: It certainly did. We receive a lot of our fuel oil from the area, which we use to … keep our boilers on loads in times like this when our coal is wet, as well as to light up units.

However, our service providers have also stepped up and they are assisting to make sure that we recover. We are starting the recovery of many of our service providers. They started tracking the oil through, though there are still some who are still struggling under the circumstances.

FIFI PETERS: Earlier today one of your colleagues – I believe the said colleague is head of transmissions – outlined two scenarios for load shedding in the winter period. So the ‘best case’ scenario is experiencing 37 days of load shedding in this winter period, with the worst case scenario going up to 101 days. So walk me through those two scenarios – what conditions need to be present for only 37 days, and what conditions would have to have transpired for us to reach 101 days of load shedding in winter.

RHULANI MATHEBULA: In terms of our planning when we go into winter we actually minimise our planned outages, year on year. That’s what we actually do. Currently, as I’m talking to you, we are sitting with about 5 000 megawatts (MW) that is on planned maintenance, with those units returning actually by the end of this month and the middle of the next month. That 5 000MW will be in the grid during winter, which allows us to meet the winter demand.

So when we plan, we plan an availability of around 10 000MW in winter, 12 000MW in summer. So in winter, if that 10 000MW should go to 12 000MW, that is when we see a worst case. However, our planning norm is 10 000MW, which is the one that is referred to as the best case. However, our effort is to make sure that it’s even much less in this winter.

FIFI PETERS: In both cases are you able to outline, at this position, what stages of load shedding would we be experiencing?

RHULANI MATHEBULA: We are looking at Stage 2 in almost all of those days. That is our planning the best case.

FIFI PETERS: Okay. Rhulani, thanks so much for your time, sir. Yeah, [we are] really keeping fingers crossed that the situation actually improves throughout the week and that we move off from Stage 4 load shedding. Rhulani Mathebula, the general manager of generation at Eskom.

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