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AfrElec: South Africa power cuts seen rising to new level in 2022

South Africa is headed for a record year of power cuts if the rate of station breakdowns continues as is the case now, particularly at coal-fuelled plants, according to Bloomberg.

State-owned Eskom Holdings said it would again ration electricity on Tuesday, May 10 after various generation units were shut down for repairs or didn’t return to service as expected.

That means that nationwide cuts in supplies will have occurred on seven of the 10 days in May so far, according to data compiled by the news agency.

Africa’s most industrialised nation was already on track to exceed the annual record for energy shed from controlled blackouts, a practice locally known as load-shedding that is used to prevent the grid from a total collapse.

There were 1,054 GWh cut through April, versus 2,521 in the whole of 2021, which was a record, according to the state-owned Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

The crisis at Eskom, which generates almost all the nation’s electricity, including 80% from burning coal, causes disruption to both daily life in South Africa and economic activity.

The ongoing outages, says Bloomberg, have increased pressure on chief executive officer Andre de Ruyter. Beyond the operational issues, the utility has a $26bn debt and is undergoing a reorganisation. Phillip Dukashe, an executive in charge of generation, quit on Monday after 26 years at the company, citing the need to balance family time and his health.

Eskom and the government are also working on plans to utilise $8.5bn of funding pledged at the COP26 climate summit with the aim of moving the country away from coal.

As the southern hemisphere winter begins, Eskom has announced a plan to cut supplies over the evening peak from 5pm to 10pm daily.

The utility said in a release cited by Moneyweb, a local publication, that winter demand for electricity has increased, placing further strain on a grid already strained by breakdowns and plants that take too long to service.

The failure of a unit at each of three power stations on Monday afternoon, as well as the delay in returning several other generation units to the grid at five facilities, had added stress to the system and necessitated the implementation of the power cuts.

“The onset of winter has seen increased demand, and this will lead to a constrained system, particularly during the morning and evening peaks, throughout the winter,” Moneyweb reported, citing an Eskom release.

“We therefore urge all South Africans to continue using electricity sparingly, especially between 05h00 – 09h00 in the mornings and 16h00 – 22h00 in the evenings.”

On that day, the utility had 3,049 MW of capacity out on planned maintenance, while another 15,943 MW had been lost from the grid due to unplanned breakdowns. The country has an installed capacity of 46,000 MW.

As outages continue, Eskom, during the evening peak last week, utilised its diesel-burning open cycle gas turbines for 23 hours daily, spending about ZAR800,000 ($50,000) per hour, according to a Moneyweb estimate. Peaking plants owned by independent power producers (IPPs) also ran for as many hours on diesel to feed the grid.