Months of ‘intensified’ rolling blackouts coming, says Ramokgopa – and we’re stuck with Stage 6 for the week

By Victoria O’Regan
Dailey Maverick

With an increase in planned maintenance over the coming months, intense load shedding will be a ‘short-term pain’ but there will be ‘long-term gain’, says Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said on Tuesday “there will be no shortcut to the ending of load shedding”, amid rolling Stage 6 power cuts which are likely to continue for the rest of the week. 

The minister was briefing the media on the performance of the national grid on Tuesday morning, after the intensification of power cuts by Eskom

South Africa was plunged into Stage 6 blackouts on Monday evening, after an increase in planned maintenance and the breakdown of generating units led to generation capacity constraints. 

Ramokgopa said Eskom had begun to ramp up planned maintenance, “to build a degree of resilience in the system”, after it had been lowered during winter due to increased demand for electricity. He said that part of the reason Eskom has seen a deterioration in generating capacity is that it had not been sticking to performing planned maintenance over the years. 

“We are going to stick to planned maintenance, we’re going to stick to philosophy maintenance. We do accept that, in the short-term, it’s going to result in the possibility of intensified load shedding. 

Something had to give and what was being compromised over that period was our investment in maintenance, and that has caught up with us.

“I’m saying possibility because, if that ramped-up planned maintenance… is accompanied by unplanned capacity loss factor – that is the other units that are tripping – then it means there will be an intensification of load shedding. Which is essentially the situation that we find ourselves in,” said Ramokgopa. 

Over time Eskom’s generating units have been exploited because of a lack of investment in planned maintenance, owing to the utility’s balance sheet being “severely compromised”, he said. 

“What has helped us a lot is the fiscal injection from National Treasury. Now, [we] have a degree of wiggle room from a financing and a funding point of view, to be able to direct a significant amount of resources towards maintenance. 

“Previously with that constrained balance sheet… Something had to give and what was being compromised over that period was our investment in maintenance, and that has caught up with us,” he said. 

Eskom’s head of generation, Bheki Nxumalo, said Stage 6 load shedding is likely to continue for the rest of the week, and be eased off towards the weekend, as some units begin to return to service.  

“Towards the end of this week we should be in a position to start reducing the stages from the current Stage 6 and… we would’ve recovered as well on our [pump storage] reserves,” he said.

In response to questions about the resurgence of higher stages of power cuts after the BRICS Summit last month, Nxumalo said Eskom did not “run the units harder for BRICS” in an effort to ease load shedding over that period.

“We don’t plan around events, we plan around the system and what is required,” he said.