Eskom to turn to private sector as risk of worst ever loadshedding looms large

Eskom CEO, André de Ruyter

SOUTH Africa is at risk of unprecedented power cuts this week after units at two of its coal-fired power stations tripped, said Bloomberg News.

Citing André de Ruyter, CEO of South African’s government-owned power utility, Eskom the newswire said the nation is now at risk of breaching stage 6 loadshedding, about 6,000MW in rotational power cuts – enough to power four million homes.

Power cuts at this level also hurt miners such as Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) which has to stop its refineries.

“We are going to be challenged to move all of our metal in refining for the rest of the year,” said Viljoen in June when there was a risk of stage 6 loadshedding. The implementation of stage 6 over the weekend is the first time since 2019.

Amplats’ approach was to reduce power consumption at its smelters first rather than at mining where it implemented cuts last of all. “If the ore is on surface, we will process it in some way or form. So we draw back from processing,” said Viljoen.

The ongoing blackouts – the worst year on record – were a major contributor to the economy’s 0.7% contraction in the second quarter, said Bloomberg News.

According to BusinessLive, Eskom hopes to add about 1,000MW to the grid within the next couple of weeks by buying energy from companies that have excess private generation capacity.

De Ruyter told journalists on Sunday the utility would approach the market today to procure “whatever megawatts are available”, with a minimum 1,000MW the target.

“We are looking at [purchasing power at] prices we will be able to obtain on the market that will be competitive with the highest-cost alternative, which is the power produced with the [diesel-powered] open-cycle gas turbines,” De Ruyter said.

Intensive energy users with large capacity such as Sasol and Sappi, the paper and pulp making company, would be approached. “The timeline for this is probably a week or two, depending on how quickly we can sort out the commercial [agreements],” De Ruyter is quoted as saying in the BusinessLive article.

On Sunday about half of Eskom’s generation capacity was offline, with 15,600MW lost due to breakdowns and 7,000MW offline for planned maintenance.

Eskom planned to restore about 2,000MW to the grid on Sunday and about 3,000MW on Monday, but De Ruyter warned this was unlikely to be smooth sailing, as “there are often repeat trips,” said BusinessLive.

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