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The truth about load-shedding in South Africa

Eskom’s chairman recently said load-shedding is a result of “problems that we have all caused”, but the facts tell a very different story.

Rapport has revealed that there were unplanned outages at all of Eskom’s 12 biggest power stations recently, which were caused by faults that could have been prevented.

Citing internal Eskom documents, Rapport said around a quarter of Eskom’s total power generation capacity was unavailable because of unplanned maintenance.

The City Press reported that Eskom’s plant breakdowns have reached “catastrophic levels, with a record-breaking 17,371MW – or 38% of Eskom’s total generating capacity – offline”.

This followed the decision by the power utility to decommission 12 units at various power stations, mainly because of a lack of funds and parts to fix them.

Another big problem is design faults at the new Medupi and Kusile power stations which prevents them from functioning as expected.

According to the City Press, these design flaws are set to cost a combined R345 billion to fix, and were caused by shoddy workmanship by suppliers.

Eskom said this is now resulting in Medupi’s three operational units “either shutting down entirely or losing part of their output”.

The list of problems at Eskom

The biggest problems which are causing unplanned outages at South Africa’s biggest power stations are:

  • Poor maintenance at many power stations, which cause unplanned outages.
  • A lack of skills, which means things like pressure and oil levels are not checked which can cause power generation units to switch off automatically.
  • Poor quality coal, which causes a variety of problems at local power stations.
  • Broken fans, which have to be custom-designed for each power station and take a long time to replace.
  • Various mill problems, which are causing serious problems at big power stations.
  • A decline in efficiency at Eskom and its power stations.

It should be noted that this is a condensed list, and that there are numerous other problems at individual power stations which are causing outages.

The damage done to Eskom

Over the last decade Eskom’s efficiency and skills base was crushed due to corruption and mismanagement at the power utility.

In 2008, Eskom was still functioning fairly well, with low electricity costs and a manageable and competent workforce.

This, however, changed quickly under former President Jacob Zuma and Eskom became – as President Cyril Ramaphosa described state-owned enterprises – a “sewer of corruption”.

Over the last few years Eskom became known for gross mismanagement, which energy expert Ted Blom said costs South Africa R1.4 trillion.

Blom said the ANC government employed people who do not know what is going on, and that the ANC is not prepared to look outside of the party for people with the required skills to run Eskom.

Apart from the lack of skills, Blom said the average employee at Eskom gets four times more than what they should be earning.

The combination of these factors has gutted Eskom, and it is now only a shadow of the former company which was a global leader in power production.

The image below provides an overview of how Eskom has changed over the last 10 years.

Now read: Prepare for many years of Eskom load-shedding