Pressure on PGM output this winter as Eskom warns of unprecedented loadshedding

Molten platinum

SOUTH Africa could be plunged into stage 8 loadshedding during winter, according BusinessLive citing a presentation by the government-owned power utility Eskom today.

“The system will be even more constrained during winter. Forecasters think this will be a much colder winter, which will result in high electricity demand for heating,” BusinessLive quoted Eskom chair Mpho Makwana to have said.

As a result, South Africa should prepare for persistent high stages of load-shedding this winter with a high likelihood of stages 7 and 8 being implemented as the weather gets colder and power demand increases, said the publication.

Eskom’s power supply difficulties have been compounded by the loss of 3,000MW in generating capacity due to long-term outages at Kusile and Koeberg. Eskom has about 47,500MW of installed capacity, but availability of only about 26,500MW.

Eskom CEO Calib Cassim said Eskom would aim for unplanned generation losses of no more than 15,000MW. But it had planned for scenarios that would see unplanned outages rise to about 18,000MW. “If unplanned outages reach 18,000MW the likelihood of stage 8 is extremely high,” Cassim said.

The impact on mining is mainly felt in metals processing, especially in the platinum group metals (PGM) and ferroalloys sectors.

South Africa’s PGM producers say potential losses in refined metal production could be between 5% and 25% this year, depending on the extent of load curtailment.

Load curtailment is a mechanism in which Eskom asks its intensive users to throttle back on energy use rather than cutting off electricity supply. The latter would be disruptive to refineries which are not designed to be switched on and off.

South African refined platinum supply fell 14% in the first quarter or some 119,000 oz owing to load curtailment and one-off maintenance, according to a report this week by the World Platinum Investment Council. “The trajectory for South Africa is not a happy one, unfortunately,” said Ed Sterck, head of research at the WPIC when asked about South African refined metal output during winter.

Eskom’s base case scenario for the next three months assumes unplanned outages of about 15,000MW and demand peaking at about 32,500MW, said BusinessLive. This would require load-shedding to be implemented at stages 3 to 5 on most days, said Segomoco Scheppers, Eskom head of transmission.

At an assumption of 18,000MW of unplanned outages stage 7 and 8 load-shedding will have to be implemented every day from June to August.

Scheppers said that actual demand forecast for 2023 was about 33,000MW. “This is a forecast of peak demand and [there] is potential for variability around this number. We do try to give the most robust and realistic assumptions, but [demand] can be up or down.”

Eskom’s estimates also exclude industrial action which resulted in output reductions last year. Wage negotiations with Eskom employees is currently underway.