South Africa: 12-hour rolling blackouts on the cards says utility Eskom


South Africans may have to get used to similar power-rationing conditions than those experienced in neighbouring Zimbabwe, with load-shedding blackouts of up to 12 hours per day, or stage 8, as classified by local electricity utility Eskom.

The country’s sole utility is a shambles, riddled with allegations of fraud, corruption, failed or ignored maintenance, and a series of failures in generation capacity will see the country seeing up to half of South Africa’s capacity inoperable. The country’s two “new” coal plants, Medupi and Kusile, due for commissioning in 2015

Municipal councils were briefed at the weekend of the anticipated increase in outages, and expected to meet to discuss how best to manage the way forward. The news followed the shock resignation of the utility’s CEO, Jabu Mabuza on Friday 10 January.

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On Sunday, acting Buffalo city municipal spokesperson Bathandwa Diamond told local news agency DispatchLIVE that the increase in load-shedding was due to the approval of the revised government standard, known as NRS 048-9, which had been put in place to manage the implementation of blackouts during periods of low capacity, and the management of critical loads by the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa).

In one of two posts, the municipality said rolling blackouts were a controlled way to ensure the national power grid remained stable enough to avoid a countrywide blackout.

“The higher the load-shedding stage, the more frequently residents will experience load-shedding. Should the country and municipalities reach stage 8, customers will have electricity for 50% of the day.

“Consumers are advised that the current schedule stages 1 to 3 will remain in place until February 1 2020, unless the country moves above stage 4 at any time sooner, which will result in … stages 1 to 8 being implemented and remaining.”

Eskom too released an update at the weekend, stating: “We have successfully returned Koeberg Unit 1 to service after a planned outage, which has added an additional 900MW to the system. Our teams continue to work around the clock to return units from planned and unplanned outages.

“The additional capacity brought online, as well as lower demand over the weekend, has allowed us to replenish our pumped storage schemes, and we continue to work to improve on the levels of diesel at our open cycle gas turbines generators.”

The utility however also cautioned that due to inadequate maintenance over a period of several years, the power system will remain vulnerable to unplanned breakdowns.

Interestingly, ex Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s promise to fix the country’s ailing power system, which saw the country without power for up to six hours a day, formed one of his main campaign standpoints. He won the country’s 2013 election even after being ousted in a coup in 1999.

The energy transition and renewable energy are hot topics disrupting the utility industry in India and will be a key focus at the POWERGEN INDIA and Indian Utility Week summit which takes place in New Delhi.
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