Eskom seeks external assistance to address energy woes

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Following three days of rolling blackouts after six of its generation sources ceased operating, South Africa’s state-owned electricity utility, Eskom is asking for outside help.

According to a speech made by the country’s Public Enterprise minister, between two and three coal power station engineers will visit the beleaguered utility to conduct full-scale operations audit of all power stations to ascertain where the most critical problems lie.

The utility’s board will also appoint a panel of experts to compile an in-depth and independent audit to ensure that every technical challenge is understood.

The utility is also facing further uncertainty as doubt grows over the completion dates targeted for its two new power stations.

“The first point we need to tell the public is that Medupi and Kusile (power stations) were badly designed and badly constructed and are not performing at optimum levels,” Gordhan told MPs ahead of the country’s state of the nation address in parliament. The country’s president also announced the unbundling of the utility in an effort to return to profitability.

The board will also institute an urgent review to establish when the two stations will realistically be completed, whilst also determining the extent of design and operational faults, as well as ways to minimise escalating costs which have tripled initial estimates, and increase output.

Gordhan also announced that engineers who were trained by the utility, but left due to corruption and state capture to work elsewhere desire to return and contribute to the rebuilding of the utility.

In terms of generation, Gordhan said coal-powered stations give the country 38,639MW, far exceeding other sources such as hydro-electric (including peaking pump storage) at 3,324MW, gas at 2,409MW and nuclear at 1,860MW.

“What we are currently faced with is that not all of the 38,000MW or fully installed 45,000MW is available to us,” said Gordhan.

 “These outages have a massive impact on the economy – from mining, big industries, manufacturing to small businesses like coffee shops. It also causes huge frustration, uncertainty, vulnerability and fear amongst communities and households,

Gordhan also spoke of a determined fightback campaign from various quarters against the government’s attempts to end corruption and state capture.

“Those who are determined to block our efforts have relied on naked populist narratives, fake news [and] cyber aggression. They use diversionary tactics and fake news. They have constituted themselves as an army of deceit, deception and extraction. In short, their actions seek to mask their intentions and divert attention from their extractive activities,” he said.

Despite these attempts, Gordhan said he was confident that the government is on its way to making sure that state capture is overcome.