ESKOM told South Africans to prepare for the possibility of renewed load-shedding today following unexpected breakdowns of its fleet.
The announcement comes on the eve of a crucial national budget statement, and just as South Africa emerges from one of the world’s harshest COVID-19 lockdown regimes.
“Eskom appeals to the public to reduce electricity consumption as the generation system is severely constrained. We have unexpectedly lost four large units to unplanned breakdowns, while the return to service of another two generation units have been delayed,” the utility said in a statement late afternoon on Tuesday.
The breakdowns happened to a unit at Kendal, Majuba and Lethabo power stations. A unit at Duvha and Tutuka power stations, had also not returned to service as expected, it said. In addition, a further Kendal unit was taken off due to technical difficulties and to address emissions, said Eskom.
The utility said it had 31,000MW available total capacity to meet Tuesday night demand. Some units would return to service soon but Eskom added: “… this situation may persist until the weekend”.
Finance minister, Tito Mboweni, is expected to detail a deficit of more than 14% and an economic contraction of 6.4% for 2020 in his supplementary budget. The country was already in economic trouble before a near-total three week lockdown announced in March by the government deepened its problems. Economists say the country is in the foothills of a recession.
The prospect of load-shedding isn’t a complete shock. On June 3, Eskom CEO, Andre de Ruyter, said the company could implement three days of stage one load-shedding in July when the country enters the height of the winter season.
“We’re anticipating that if load-shedding is required, it will be during the evening peak only,” he said. “We’re working very closely with our industrial customers to ensure that we don’t affect them unnecessarily … You will have three days of load-shedding stage one, none on stage two and none on stage three.
“We’re evaluating various scenarios and plans to make sure that we can continue to deliver on our commitments to the country to keep the lights on and we’re making good progress in ensuring that we can deliver on our reliability maintenance programme and that will kick off on July 1.”