Energy interventions: Driving our planned maintenance programme

By Calvin Augustine

A suite of interventions under our country’s Energy Action Plan are being diligently implemented by government to turnaround our country’s energy challenge. Despite our best efforts, we do experience temporary setbacks like earlier this month when we experienced Stage 6 loadshedding. 

Our intervention plan anticipates that there will be some short-term pains, particularly as Eskom’s aging generation fleet experiences unforeseen breakdowns, which impacts on our electricity supply.  To manage the number of breakdowns, we have embarked on a planned maintenance programme to extend the life of our generation units and ensure their availability. 

We have currently removed 7000 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity for maintenance. This difficult decision to remove units from service at a time when our energy supply is constrained, is balanced against our need to move towards a more stable solution to resolving our energy challenge. 

This enduring approach of ramping up planned maintenance since September last year has strengthened the power generation fleet for the upcoming winter. As the country heads into the peak demand period of winter, we will be in a better position to add available capacity of up to 2000 MW by tapering planned maintenance. 

This will mean that we will begin reducing planned maintenance from 6000 MW in March 2024 to 5000 MW in April 2024. This will further be reduced to around 3500 MW in May 2024. This maintenance threshold will be sustained during winter to ensure that there is more capacity available to cater for the expected high energy demand. 

The stringent maintenance that we have been undertaking forms part of the interventions of the Energy Action Plan announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2022 to improve the performance of Eskom’s existing coal fired power stations. 

In improving our short term generation capacity, we have over the past year successfully returned of generation units ahead of scheduled to service at our Kusile Power Station which is collectively injecting 3 200 MW of capacity into the national grid. Furthermore, through our Standard Offer Programme we have contracted 720 MW with 100MW made available to the grid immediately. 

The promotion of installed rooftop solar photovoltaic capacity, from 983MW in March 2022 to 4 412MW in June 2023, is helping to lessen the stages of loadshedding experienced. It is expected that private generation will continue to contribute to rooftop solar and embedded generation, and an additional 1500 MW is expected to come online this year.

Government is also implementing wide-ranging reforms to enable private investment in electricity generation, along with the procurement of new generation capacity from solar, wind, gas and battery storage.  Regulatory changes such as the removal of the licencing threshold for generation has led to a massive boom in private investment in electricity generation, with a pipeline of more than 10,000 MW of new capacity that will begin to connect to the grid. 

We expect our energy situation to improve in the second half of the year as the Medupi Power Station Unit 4 returns to service and the Kusile Power Station Unit 6 is synchronised to the grid. Furthermore, Unit 2 of the Koeberg Power Station is also scheduled to will return to service in September 2024. Together they will add another 2580 MW to the grid. 

In the interim, to lessen the impact of load shedding on the economy and on the daily lives of South Africans, Eskom will run its fleet of open-cycle gas turbines. The utility is converting its Gourikwa and Ankerlig Power Stations from diesel to gas which is expected to yield an additional 2000MW to support the grid. 

As we forge ahead with our maintenance programme and work together to pull through this challenging period, we are confident that we will see positive results in the long term. Our nation is in this together and it means we are all part of our national effort to end load shedding and achieve energy security.

Calvin Augustine is Deputy Director: Communication Resource Centre at GCIS