Eskom is struggling to restore stability to its generation fleet as breakdowns soar again to record levels.

At lunchtime Tuesday, the utility had 16,985 megawatts (MW) of power offline due to the outage. In addition, 5,446 MW of its fleet was unavailable due to scheduled maintenance.

This means that 22,400 MW of generating capacity is idle. Eskom’s total installed capacity is 49,020MW, meaning 46% of it is currently unavailable.

Things are worse in the coal fleet, more than half of the capacity – 53% – is not in the network.

On Tuesday morning, a conveyor belt failure at the Kendal Power Station, off the N12 between Johannesburg and Emalahleni, triggered a sequence of events that eventually shut down three units.

This loss of nearly 2,000MW of capacity necessitated phase 4 load shedding shortly after the scheduled restoration of phase 2. Kendal is one of the company’s three worst-performing power stations.

The latest round of load shedding was first implemented last Tuesday as Eskom’s generating unit endured what Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer described on Monday as a “disastrous week”.

A total of 42 generator units went out during the week – some more than once.

The crisis is aggravated by the delayed restart of the second Köbergh unit, which was supposed to return to operation in June.

This date has been postponed several times. He was last online more than 10 days ago. Problems with the control rod have meant the device has been unable to reach full power since attempts to restart it began last month.

Oberholzer told the media on Monday that trips of this nature are normal after the control rod is replaced.

This means that around 900MW of reliable capacity – the equivalent of one stage of load shedding – has been cut since January.

This, along with the chaos caused by illegal production actions in June and July that pushed load shedding to Stage 6, meant Eskom was forced to manage marginal coal units more tightly.

Those chickens are now coming home to roost.

READ ALSO: Back to reality thanks to Eskom

After 54 hours of diesel fuel

To avoid more load-shedding on weekends, when demand is lower than during the week, Eskom burned diesel at its open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) for 54 continuous hours from Thursday (September 8) at 4 p.m.

By 21:00 on Saturday (September 10), the diesel had run out. This was at a time when it was struggling to fill the upstream dams on its pumped storage systems and trying to restore coal capacity.

Eskom has spent R7.7 billion on diesel for its OCGTs since April because it has to run them frequently outside the evening peak periods.

He actually used up his annual diesel budget halfway through the year. For most of this year it uses its own OCGTs at a load factor of 16% to keep the lights on. The OCGT load factor, operated by independent power producers (IPPs), has been 11% since April.

Over the past seven days, its OCGT load factor is over 32%. This means that it has been operating at a third of its capacity on average over the past week.

For IPP OCGT, the load factor last week was 25%.

Supply constraints – in other words, getting diesel to factories – mean it can only physically burn a maximum of 2.4 billion rand a month. A more practical limitation is finding that much fuel and paying cash.

South Africa’s National Energy Regulatory Authority (Nersa) has only approved a 3% load factor for diesel turbines for this financial year, which will mean a huge battle next year to see if it can restore that.

The bigger problem is where Eskom is going to find another 7 billion rand for diesel before the end of the year.

In Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s February budget, he was given a R21.9 billion “fiscal bailout” (read: bailout).

By July, Eskom owed 49.1 billion rand to municipalities – an increase of 8.2 billion rand from September 2021. The total was “only” 9.5 billion rand in 2017.

READ ALSO: Eskom has already spent R7.7bn on emergency generators

Bad service = unavailability

Oberholzer also admitted on Monday that the work carried out by Eskom and its contractors’ maintenance team was simply not up to standard.

He said the devices often break down shortly after undergoing maintenance. This is due to a “skills gap” both internally and with contractors. One could describe this skills crisis in the utility as “acute”.

ALSO READ: Load-shedding: Energy expert warns of long blackouts by end of 2022

The coal farm has not been able to sustainably generate more than 19,500 MW since Friday morning, and last reached more than 21,000 MW on Thursday morning.

The total coal fleet is theoretically capable of generating 41,000 MW, but currently cannot achieve even 48% of this figure.

Energy Availability Factor (EAF) exceeding 60% was an exception this year. In fact, the average so far is 59.5%, made worse by the shutdown of the second Koeberg unit.

However, excluding the impact of illegal labor actions and EAF, Eskom’s year to date declines to 58.9%.

This is below the 62% achieved in the last financial year (to the end of March 2022). The EAF budget for FY 2022 was 70%.

Currently, there is every chance that Eskom’s EAF for 2022 will be below 60% and may even be below this mark, bearing in mind that the first Koeberg unit will inevitably be shut down (probably after the restart of the second unit will reach stable work).

Its latest State of the System report shows load shedding – in a “likely risk scenario” where 15,000MW is down due to outages – should be expected for all but three of the next 52 weeks.

This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and has been republished with permission.
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