Brace for Winter: Eskom Battles Power Shortages, Urges Conservation

Electricity Generation
  1. Eskom, South Africa’s power utility, warns of a challenging winter due to severe constraints on the national grid and thousands of megawatts offline from various issues.
  2. The company is working to recover lost megawatts, targeting a return of 3,115MW by March 2024, but most recoveries are expected after the winter season.
  3. Eskom is focusing on demand-side management (DSM) to reduce energy consumption and urges South Africans to collaborate with the government to manage demand and mitigate the impact of power shortages during winter.

South African power utility Eskom has issued a warning about the severe strain the national grid will face during the upcoming winter months. Despite the company’s efforts to mitigate the energy shortfall, the grid is expected to experience significant constraints. On Friday (5 May), Eskom provided an update on the grid’s status and the progress being made on the Energy Action Plan.

Eskom revealed that its generation capacity remains critically constrained, with thousands of megawatts offline due to various issues, such as units offline at Kusile and Medupi, Koeberg Unit 1 still undergoing life-extension, and multiple other trips and outages. The group is working to recover some of these lost megawatts over the next year, with a target of returning 3,115MW by March 2024. However, considering an energy availability factor of 60%, this would only result in 1,869MW of actual energy being added to the grid.

In the meantime, South Africa will continue to grapple with severe energy shortages, as the Unplanned Capability Loss Factor (UCLF) and Operational Capability Loss Factor (OCLF) are both well above the planned assumptions set last year. UCLF refers to the generation units taken offline due to unplanned outages, while OCLF refers to outages caused by factors outside the control of the unit’s manager. Both factors contribute to the reduction of available megawatts on the grid.

In its latest system outlook, Eskom predicted most of its load shedding stages would be based on outages of 13,000MW, with the worst-case scenario being 16,500MW offline. The data presented on Friday indicated that UCLF and OCLF are expected to take between 14,000MW and 15,200MW offline over the next three months. Eskom warned that South Africa faces a “very tough winter.”

The power utility has made some progress in recovering lost megawatts, with a 300MW recovery from Tutuka 3 in April 2023 and an additional 675MW expected in May. However, most recoveries are anticipated later in the year, long after winter has passed. This confirms what many analysts and energy experts have been saying: there is no short-term solution that will spare the country from a challenging winter.

Eskom is currently finalizing a plan for the winter season, which will be presented once approved. In the meantime, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) has urged South Africans to work with Eskom and the government to manage energy demand, in order to make the winter less traumatic.

As Eskom cannot increase the electricity supply in the coming months, the only way to mitigate disaster during the winter is by reducing energy demand. The power utility has been focusing on demand-side management (DSM) to better control energy consumption from industry, business, and residents. Through DSM, Eskom hopes to reduce demand by 1,500MW.

To achieve this, the company will target easy wins, such as geysers and lightbulbs, while also expanding its DSM contracts with industries and businesses. Eskom believes that effectively implementing DSM programs can create a win-win situation, reducing pressure on the power system while enabling consumers to save costs by being more energy-conscious and reducing consumption without affecting business productivity or quality of life.

Eskom has already made progress in various DSM initiatives, including energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation, and energy storage. Through DSM contracts, the power utility has managed to prevent load shedding from escalating beyond stage 6 on a national level.

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