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Is load-shedding on the cards?

Independent power producers cannot help for the next year and a half

Eskom’s Grootvlei coal-fired power station in Gauteng.
Eskom’s Grootvlei coal-fired power station in Gauteng.
Image: Waldo Swiegers/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

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 director-general 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.

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 SA 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.

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