No load-shedding this winter, says Eskom – but can we be sure?

The power utility’s interim group chief executive has assured the public that the organisation is committed to keeping the lights on this winter, despite low coal stockpiles at six of its power stations, by shifting plant performance and coal stock between power stations.

Phakamani Hadebe

At a media briefing at Eskom’s Megawatt Park complex, the power utility’s chief executive, Phakamani Hadebe, says the utility has implemented plans to manage a shift in plant performance and coal stock levels making load-shedding unlikely this winter.

The resilience of the power system was evidenced in March this year, he said, following a number of plant breakdowns and a number of units on scheduled maintenance. The organisation expects several units to be back on line before the end of May which will further strengthen the power grid ahead of the winter season.

Coal stockpiles across all coal-fired power stations are at an average of 35 days, excluding the plants under construction Medupi and Kusile, he said, and plans are in place to improve coal stockpile levels at the six power stations that are currently below minimum stock level requirements.

According to Hadebe, the coal recovery plan includes securing additional coal supplies and a redirection of coal stock from other power stations’ coal yards to address the imbalance at the six power stations. Eskom is apparently concluding an interim coal supply agreement with the Tegeta Business Rescue Practitioners to enable coal supply to Hendrina Power Station while the business rescue process is in progress. In addition, Eskom is currently negotiating tenders for 100-million t of coal that is required for the next five years, he added.

“The challenge of coal stock levels below the required target at some of our power stations is not ideal, more especially as the organisation prepares for the traditionally higher energy usage period in winter. We have however put measures in place to mitigate the situation and if the current state does not improve, we will meticulously reassess the situation, review our plans and take the necessary action,” Hadebe said.

Eskom has maintained operational performance for the year ending March 2018 with the energy availability factor having improved to 78% from 77,3% for the previous financial year.

Generation plant performance showed a decline from September 2017 with unplanned outages for the year ending March 2018 at 10.2% up from 9.9% for the same period last year. Planned maintenance was at 10,4% for the year ending March 2018, meeting the target of 10%. Other losses were at 1,5%.

“We move into winter confident that our plant, notwithstanding anomalies, will be able to meet demand. We have set a target to improve plant performance and are on course to achieve a sustainably healthy electricity system by balancing maintenance and reducing unplanned breakages, plant availability of 80% with 10% of units on planned maintenance and 10% on unplanned and other maintenance by FY 2018/19,” Hadebe said.

During the 2017/18 financial year 2387 MW of new generation capacity was added to the national electricity grid, exceeding the year-end target of 1460 MW. In addition, 722,3 km of new transmission lines were added, exceeding the year-end target of 677 km and 2510 MVA of new substation transformer capacity exceeded the year-end target of 2010 MVA.

“Continuing to fast-track delivery of the build programme remains a critical enabler for Eskom to support the network sufficiently and to ensure that South Africa has optimal base load capacity and transmission infrastructure to grow the South African economy,” Hadebe said.

Eskom is making notable strides towards achieving the goal of universal access to electricity with 215 519 new electricity connections in the 2017/18 financial year. Universal access has been reached in terms of clinics and new clinics and schools will be connected to the grid as they are built.

During the winter season localised outages increase as a result of illegal electricity connections which overburden the power system. We ask customers to be vigilant and to report these transgressions including cable and electricity theft. Eskom continues to focus its efforts on increasing growth in demand of electricity and ensuring sustainable revenue collection.

“Collection of municipal arrear debt remains a challenge, however, we continue with our interventions and have enlisted the support of government to enhance our efforts to recover monies owed to Eskom. Through a collaborative approach and relentless focus, we are on a path to stabilise the organisation and to achieve sustained success for Eskom,” Hadebe said.

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