In the latest Eskom plant performance review, data highlights a determined effort to boost pumped storage levels. However, this endeavor potentially sacrifices emergency diesel reserves, elevating the risk of extensive load shedding for South Africa.
Independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan’s data indicates Eskom’s recent reliance on pumped storage, intended for managing peak energy demands. Over the past fortnight, these storage reserves have been considerably depleted, plummeting to a record low of just over 24%.
The plummeting reserves forced Eskom to implement stage 6 load shedding to replenish them, utilizing diesel assistance. Yet, this practice has proven costly, leading to diesel shortages and the loss of the buffer offered by open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs).
Jordaan highlights the drawback: while diesel-assisted pumping momentarily helped on Saturday, shortages on Sunday compelled Eskom to revert to pumped hydro generation. Ironically, the Sunday hydro use incurred a 33% premium in pumping losses compared to potential diesel savings.
This strategy seems focused on boosting dam levels at the expense of depleting the relatively cheaper diesel reserves. Analysis also reveals a scarcity of diesel for running OCGTs on Sunday, ultimately leading to the utilization of pumped hydro, fueled by the depleted diesel reserves.
Eskom’s reliance on peaking sources, notably pumped storage and OCGTs, continues to intensify due to escalating demands and persistent breakdowns, surpassing 30% of capacity.
Despite regulatory caps on OCGT output, Eskom has produced energy far exceeding these limitations, straining its financial resources significantly.
According to Jordaan, historical trends indicate heightened load shedding risks preceding the festive season, as witnessed by recent demand surges resulting in stage 6 load shedding. These patterns suggest an early onset of the expected surge.
Despite the return of large Kusile units, unplanned outages persist at higher levels than last year, impeding Eskom’s pursuit of its operational targets, notably the EAF of 65% by March 2024.
Forecasts for December 2023 and January 2024 paint a grim picture of frequent load shedding during the festive season, with only a few days expected to be blackout-free.
Eskom officials’ presentation disclosed the probability of load shedding ranging between stages 1 and 3 in December, peaking at stages 4 to 6 daily at its worst. January anticipates similar scenarios.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa offered optimism, pledging reduced blackouts for December due to anticipated unit returns. Despite Ramokgopa’s assertion of load shedding ending by 24 December, Eskom’s forecast contradicts this hope.
The disparity between official assurances and Eskom’s projections emphasizes the severity of South Africa’s ongoing energy crisis, hinting at persistent challenges ahead.