Power black outs

State-owned electricity producer Eskom,
which declared its fourth power emergency of
the 2013/14 summer maintenance season on
Thursday morning, began implementing load
shedding from 9:00, causing shops to shut,
disrupting cellular networks and raising fresh
concerns about the constraint being placed on
South Africa’s already poor growth outlook by
the country’s electricity shortages.
It was the first time that the utility had
resorted to rotational load shedding since the
country’s power crisis of 2008, during which
mines were shut, factories reduced output
and offices and households across the country
were left without power for extended periods.
Eskom declared an emergency as from 6:00 in
the morning of March 6, compelling its large
customers to reduce their consumption by
10%. But this was insufficient to stabilise the
system and residential and commercial
customers began being cut three hours later.
The utility said that the situation was more
critical than had been the case during three
recent emergencies in November and
February, attributing the generation losses to
relentless rain in parts of South Africa.
Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba
later provided a more detailed explanation of
the causes, including:
• The depletion of dry coal stockpiles at some
plants, which resulted in lower power output
as a result of wet and poor quality coal;
• The loss of three units at the Kendal power
station, in Mpumalanga, as well as reduced
output from Duvha, where conveyor belts
were being reconstructed following a fire in
December;
• Low dam levels at the Drakensberg and
Palmiet pumped storage power stations;
• And, a loss of imports through the
Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.
During the previous emergencies the bulk of
the savings were derived from the 32
members of the Energy Intensive Group
(EIUG), which collectively account for about
45% of national consumption, or 112 704 GWh
in 2013.
But Gigaba said that, after all reserves were
used and after a reduction by key industrial
customers, “an additional reduction in
demand of about 3000 MW was needed to
balance the electricity system”. To make
provision for the shortfall Eskom’s emergency
protocol required all customers to reduce
their demand by 20% through rotational load
shedding.
SHARING THE BURDEN?
The EUIG’s Shaun Nel told Engineering News
Online that its members had responded to
Eskom’s call for a 10% reduction, as they had
done in both November and February.
The cuts were additional to the reductions
made in line with contractual arrangements
Eskom had with some larger customers under
its Demand Market Participation scheme. The
utility also had an interruptible-load contract
with BHP Billiton’s aluminium smelters.
Nel said that the frequency of the cuts had
become a serious problem for its members,
which had hitherto used the periods of
reduction to redirect resources, or to pursue
short-term maintenance activities. “These
opportunities are being exhausted as the
frequency of the cuts increases.”
In other words, output would ultimately be
affected across companies that had collective
revenues of R794-billion in 2013, the
equivalent of 27% of gross domestic product.
Nel said EIUG members were concerned that
they were having to bear the brunt of the
tight system and felt that, while load shedding
was unpalatable, the “marginal impact of a
couple of hours of shedding at a household
level is relatively small, because it is diluted
across a large number of people”.
“Whereas when you target 32 big companies,
the impact is felt very significantly on the
economy.”
Business Unity South Africa (Busa) echoed
these sentiments, arguing that, if further load
shedding is inevitable, it would be “better
that energy saving should be spread over the
whole nation than repeatedly placing an
unfair burden on a small number of intensive
energy-users”.
However, the cuts were deeply felt on March
6, with restaurants hauling out candles,
retailers shutting their doors and mobile
networks reporting disruptions. In fact,
cellular group MTN put out a formal
statement in which it stated that load
shedding had resulted in its services being
affected in certain areas.
Busa said it was “deeply concerned” about
the frequency with which emergencies were
being declared, “as these are now
cumulatively beginning to have serious
economic and business consequences”.
The organisation would be seeking urgent
meetings with government to discuss the
challenges on the energy front, including the
economic negative impact of Eskom’s inability
to maintain stable power supplies, which was
“inhibiting investment, growth and job
creation.
SHORT-TERM SUPPLY?
The pressure on Eskom to restore supply
contracts with independent power producers
(IPPs) and municipalities would also grow in
the coming weeks. These contracts were
terminated in December, owing to Eskom’s
financial constraints.
Gigaba said recently that discussions were
under way between the Department of Public
Enterprises, the Department of Energy (DoE),
the National Treasury and Eskom to secure
the resources to resume purchases and to
pursue yet additional supply-side
opportunities.
Eskom told Engineering News Online that it
was currently signing up short-term capacity
from IPP’s and municipal generators, which
would endure until the end of May. “We are
in discussion with government about the
continued use of the IPPs beyond May.”
Energy Minister Dikobe Ben Martins said in
early February that the DoE planned to
initiate the long-awaited procurement
processes for new baseload and cogeneration
IPP projects by the end of March.
The bidding processes would be pursued in
line with the determinations issued on
December 19, 2012. Under the baseload
determination, 2 500 MW had been allocated
for coal-fired IPP projects, 2 652 MW for
baseload or mid-merit natural gas capacity
and 2 609 MW for domestic and imported
hydro-electricity prospects.
In addition, the DoE planned to procure 474
MW from near-term natural gas projects as
outlined under the Medium-Term Risk
Mitigation Plan, which also included a further
800 MW allocation for cogeneration capacity
arising from biomass, industrial waste and
combined heat and power sources.
Nel said the EIUG was monitoring
developments closely, but remained
concerned that some of the problems raised
by potential participants about the nature of
the contracts had not yet been ironed out.
Unless they were, it could dampen appetite
for the procurement programmes.
“It’s a short-sighted argument to say we don’t
have the money now, because the cost of
unserved energy is significantly more than
that. In addition, those short-term power
contracts are cheaper than the diesel plants
anyway.”
Busa was also unhappy with the further delay
in Parliament to the progression of the
Independent Services and Marketing
Operations Bill, “to which business was
looking to create a more competitive
environment for energy supply and to provide
greater energy security in future”.
“In the meantime, every effort must be made
to get all sources of ancillary power mobilised
and load shedding must be planned to cause
the minimum disruption to economic activity,
transport and welfare.”
Eskom said it would use the published load-
shedding schedule available on its website at
http://loadshedding.eskom.co.za/ for its
customers, but pointed out that municipalities
also had their own schedules.
It called on consumers to urgently switch off
geysers, pool pumps and all nonessential
appliances throughout the day to further
reduce the impact of rotational load shedding
and cautioned customers to treat all electrical
connections as live during the period.
Eskom would provide regular updates on the
status of the power system, while forecasting
that load shedding would continue until 22:00
tonight.
The three Kendal units were expected to
return during the course of the day, as well
as another unit by evening peak from Majuba
power station. But the wet weather conditions
were expected to continue until next week
making a prognosis for the lifting of the
emergency difficult.

Source: newsletters.creamermedia.co.za/servlet/link/14/59561/10507907/1474069

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