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Eskom barely dodges Stage 7, as weeks-long recovery looms

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At the Monday peak, where electricity demand crested 32300MW, Eskom managed to only just avoid Stage 7 load shedding.

Its shortfall, according to data provided by spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha showed that load shedding at 18:26 totalled 6784MW – an entire 216MW short of ‘officially’ requiring Stage 7. Because of reserve margin requirements, Eskom generally moves up stages of load shedding when the shortfall exceeds the next 500MW in a given range.

Read: SA’s worst week of load shedding to hit economy hard

Eskom’s own public data shows that at 18:00 on Monday it had already surpassed that point. At that moment in time, it had implemented manual load reduction (load shedding) of 6598.95MW. It is unclear exactly how the National System Operator (currently being split from Eskom) managed this, although it seems likely that it ‘encouraged’ metros and its own distribution team to use the 18:00 hour to maximum advantage.

So, instead of restoring power at 18:10, as is likely for blocks/areas that are being load shed, this would be delayed to (for example) 18:40. Those blocks/areas due for load shedding at the peak (at 18:00) would see their power cut at exactly that time.

It has been unable to sustain the levels and number of cuts to intensive energy users, including the aluminium smelters. There have been a number of cuts of 447MW at the peak (interruptible load supply), but this is only contractually possible a certain amount of time.

Eskom’s emergency diesel turbines have not been able to keep up.

It noted that it would be in a “better position” after the weekend as a diesel shipment would arrive then.

Read: Eskom is burning more diesel than ever to keep the lights on

The number of independent open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) running at peak is not entirely instructive. Rather Eskom, which is preposterously being forced to now use OCGTs as peaking power, illustrates a trend. It is operating at least eight of its own turbines at peak each evening, since illegal industrial action started.

At peak Wed 30 June Thurs 31 June Fri 1 July Sat 2 July Sun 3 July Mon 4 July
Number of Eskom OCGTs 8 8 8 10 13 9
Number of IPP OCGTs 4 0 0 0 6 0

Source: Eskom

Of great concern is the fact that at its peak on Monday evening, Eskom’s coal fleet managed to generate only 20 646MW (at 19:00). While this is higher than the amounts achieved on Saturday and Sunday (during which the country experienced Stage 4 load shedding), it remains 1000MW below what it managed during the evenings towards the end of last week.

The utility announced on Tuesday it has reached an agreement on wage talks, bringing the “damaging, disruptive and costly wage dispute to an end, paving the way for a full return to work of all employees”.

But, executives have previously said that workers will take some time to return. More worrying: the maintenance backlog (either planned or unplanned) is now enormous.

Read:
Unions sign 7% Eskom wage deal
Eskom warns it may take ‘days to weeks’ before its systems recover

Last week already, Eskom bravely said that “While some workers have started reporting for duty at the power stations, there is still a high level of absenteeism. As a result of the unlawful strike, routine maintenance work has had to be postponed. This backlog will take days to weeks to clear”.

Eskom reiterated this on Tuesday. It will likely take most of the month to recover.

This was before the announcement on pay rises. On paper, these seem cheap at the price – this will add ‘only’ an extra R1 billion to Eskom’s wage bill. Contrast this with the immense cost to the economy of load shedding – some estimates suggest upwards of R4 billion a day for Stage 6 – and it would appear to be a no-brainer.

But where does this stop?

Already, Eskom workers are among the best-paid industrial employees in the country. As per the wage agreement, Eskom will implement a 7% salary increase “across the board … for all the employees covered in the central bargaining forum” applied” until June 2023.

Housing allowances for employees will increase by R400 per month, and “with effect from July 2022, Eskom has agreed to re-instate the conditions of service which applied during the agreement in force until 30 June 2021.”

The three unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Solidarity have “urged their members to return to work immediately”.

Eskom announced on Tuesday that load shedding would reach Stage 5 at the peak (16:00 to 22:00) on Wednesday and Thursday. During the day, Stage 4 would be implemented, and overnight (from midnight to 05:00), Stage 2.

Lower load shedding

It says, “depending on several possibilities – including the workforce fully returning to work to conduct much needed repairs to equipment – it is anticipated load shedding will gradually be lowered to Stage 2 by the weekend.”

The current forecast is for continuous Stage 2 load shedding on Saturday and Sunday.

Regardless of industrial action, Eskom’s current published forecast shows a high risk of load shedding until the end of the month.

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