Eskom to announce coal recovery plan to address imbalance in coal stock levels

The challenge of coal stock levels below the required target of 20 days at seven of Eskom’s power stations is not ideal, more especially as the power utility prepares for the traditionally higher electricity usage period in winter. The organisation has, however, put measures in place to address the current coal shortages.

Eskom says it is highly cognisant of the significant impact insufficient coal supply would have on its operations and the entire country. The organisation acknowledges it is currently facing imbalances whereby several coal-fired power stations, particularly those in the Mpumalanga province are affected. However, it says, the level of coal stock days in more than half of the 15 coal-fired power stations in Eskom’s generation fleet is maintained above the grid code target of 20.

Eskom’s Duvha coal-fired power station.

The prevailing situation at seven power stations, viz. Arnot, Tutuka, Majuba, Hendrina, Camden, Kriel and Komati is that coal stock levels are below the required target of 20 days as stipulated in the grid code.  Although the total current coal stock day levels of 35 days (excluding new-build power stations Medupi and Kusile) are within an acceptable range, it is necessary to have all stations at the required stock day levels.

According to Eskom, a number of factors, including the historical under-investment at cost-plus mines due to capital constraints and the under-supply on both coal quality and quantity by the Tegeta mines which are under business rescue, have negatively impacted stock levels and production. Eskom has informed Nersa of the current coal supply challenges and planned remedial actions as per regulatory requirements.

The utility says its recovery plan includes securing additional coal supplies for the affected stations and a further redirection of coal stock is underway to address the imbalance.

According to Eskom’s Interim Group Chief Executive, Phakamani Hadebe, recent media reports of impending load shedding due to a shortage of coal are therefore unfounded. The utility has contracted 84% of the coal it requires over the next five years.  A recovery plan is in place to address the short-term imbalance of coal and to improve the stock days at the seven stations below minimum, and the organisation is working on ways to expedite the coal procurement process at these mines.

He says the situation cannot be compared to 2008 when the country experienced load shedding. During that period coal production and delivery were severely affected, with wet coal – due to abnormal rain fall – being at the centre of the various challenges experienced at that time. On top of those challenges, was an increase in demand for electricity which resulted in coal stockpile levels being significantly lower than the targeted levels. In the first week of January 2008, the number of stockpile days was at an average of 12 days but had improved to 24 days by July 2008.

Eskom says its overall stockpiles level is at 35 days excluding Medupi and Kusile. Furthermore, the additional capacity from its new-build power stations, has increased generation capacity further enabling the utility to keep the lights on.

The utility says it is standard practice at Eskom to increase vigilance on all critical processes particularly during the traditionally higher demand winter period in order to manage for the unexpected and to ensure that the lights stay on. Management of the coal stock levels is undertaken daily and forms part of the generation production plan that takes into account the planned repairs and maintenance needed at some stations along with prioritisation of stations’ burn rate.

Hadebe says the challenge of coal stock levels below the required target of 20 days at seven of the utility’s power stations is not ideal, especially as the organisation prepares for the traditionally higher energy usage period in winter. The utility has however put measures in place to mitigate the situation and if the current state does not improve, the organisation promises to meticulously reassess the situation, review its plans and take the necessary action.

Eskom will hold a media briefing on 3 May 2018 where it will share its winter plans.

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