Eskom: Power grid still vulnerable

The parastatal’s Khulu Phasiwe says the utility is keeping a close eye on the power grid.

FILE: Last year South Africa suffered its worst outages since 2008. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Eskom isn't planning any load shedding today and the system is likely to remain stable this week, but the power giant has reiterated that the power grid is still vulnerable.

The utility has been battling to keep up with demands due to limited generating capacity, ageing infrastructure and several technical issues at its power stations.

Last Friday the utility implemented rolling blackouts for the first time this year after several generators broke down.

The parastatal's Khulu Phasiwe says the utility is keeping a close eye on the system.

"The system is relatively stable at this moment but if we do lose any of our generating units or a number of them, then we will have to revise our position."

At the same time, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry says businesses can still prosper if they are prepared.

Some companies are using backup generators to continue operating during blackouts.

The organisation's Peggy Drodskie says small and big businesses will suffer if they can't work around the power cuts.

South Africa has been hamstrung by power shortages, which have curtailed output and are seen as a deterrent to foreign investment.

Last year, the country suffered its worst outages since 2008, hurt by outdated infrastructure and plant failures.

South African power demand typically ranges from around 30,000 to 35,000 megawatts, so the country's reserves to keep the lights on is only at around 3 percent.

The first unit of the much-delayed Medupi power plant would be synchronised to the grid soon and reach commercial or full output of 794 MW by June. Another five units will follow and the first unit of the new Kusile plant should come online in 2017.

LOAD SHEDDING UNTIL AT LEAST APRIL

From Monday until at least the end of April, nationwide load shedding is likely on a "planned, controlled and rotational" basis.

Eskom chief executive Tshediso Matona said at a briefing on Thursday that in order to catch up with a severe maintenance backlog, load shedding will now be part of our lives.

He admitted not enough maintenance on power plants has been done in the past, resulting in the crisis which has plunged the country into darkness.

It's also not yet clear how Eskom is going to get out of its financial woes, but Matona said the lack of "cost-reflective tariffs" is part of the problem which makes the prospect of paying more for electricity while periodically sitting in the dark a possibility.

President Jacob Zuma said at the African National Congress (ANC) anniversary rally on Saturday that bad planning during the apartheid era was to blame for the increased need for power outages.

He did not announce any new measures and touched on what has already been announced by government.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday met with Eskom officials about the ongoing plans to help the utility deal with electricity problems, but he hasn't yet made an announcement on government interventions.

Meanwhile, Eskom has again appealed to South Africans to change how they use electricity as the risk of load shedding increases.

RUNNING OUT OF FUNDS

Eskom is expected to run out of funds by mid-February.

Matona said government has been working with Eskom since December to develop a number of turnaround strategies.

Economists, business and industry leaders are concerned about the impact of further power outages and the sustainability of electricity in the future.

Matona has spent most of his week meeting with board members and business stakeholders regarding what can be expected in terms of electricity supply.

He said it would take almost as long to fix the current state of the power system as it did for it to deteriorate.

But the head of the parastatal said he was committed to doing the right thing to ensure reliable electricity supply.