[imagesource: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg]
In truth, Eskom’s woes can probably be summarised into one very short sentence.
It’s a state-owned enterprise.
As we know, in South Africa, that’s essentially a death sentence, but for the purpose of understanding why we’re looking at another five years of load shedding, we’ll lay out some basics.
That’s right – five more years of the dreaded EskomSePush notifications, and people relentlessly spamming the neighbourhood Facebook group with ‘are we getting load shed today?’ questions.
Download the app, and take control of your own destiny, Gladys.
Anyway, TimesLIVE’s Paul Ash has laid things out nice and clearly, so let’s get the ball rolling with the first few reasons why Eskom is in the dwang.
Municipalities owe Eskom billions:
Municipalities owe Eskom R35.2bn in unpaid bills. That amount would pay for nearly half a new Medupi power station (at the original budgeted cost of R79bn).
Many municipalities have been run into the ground through gross mismanagement and corruption, although CEO André de Ruyter says Eskom is putting together partnership deals with ailing municipalities to facilitate revenue collection.
Its old power stations are near the end of their design lives:
The average age of an Eskom “six-pack” — named for the number of generating units they have — is 40 years.
“Most of our power stations are reaching the end of their useful lives, having had a hard life and being operated for an extended period of time well above international utilisation factors,” said De Ruyter.
If only we could have somehow seen this coming.
Copper thieves are looting its cables:
Eskom is “plagued” by theft and vandalism of its infrastructure. Copper theft costs the SA economy R5bn to R7bn a year. Eskom spends about R2bn a year replacing lost cables.
The defects at Kusile and Medupi mega-power stations will cost billions to fix:
The inherent design defects at the new but long-overdue and over-budget Kusile and Medupi power stations will cost about R7bn to rectify, according to a 2019 Parliamentary Working Group report. Medupi was supposed to be completed in 2012, but only this year will the last of its six units come on stream.
Kusile was supposed to take six years to complete, and was started in 2008, but it’s predicted the power station will only be fully operational in 2023.
Those two power stations are one of the key reasons why the words ‘code red’ are being thrown around.
Eskom is also dealing with the issue of illegal connections, which leads to network overloading. To mitigate this, certain areas are subject to ‘load reduction’ during peak times.
It is saddled with debt:
Eskom’s debt has ballooned to at least R464bn.
Servicing its debt costs — R39.1bn in interest on the debt last year — has meant relying on government bailouts that amounted to R56bn in 2020/21 and R31.7bn for 2021/22…
I’d rather see my money go towards bailing out Eskom than SAA, but we don’t get to tick a box when we fork out taxes every month.
Finally, Eskom cannot afford to upgrade all power stations to meet emissions standards:
The electrostatic precipitators on some of the older power plants do not comply with new emissions standards. While some of the plants will get upgrades to emissions control equipment, bringing all Eskom’s power stations in line with the new standards would cost R300bn — “money Eskom clearly does not have”, said De Ruyter.
No, we don’t have R300 billion to throw at the problem.
As an added bonus, we’ve been warned by Eskom’s chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer, to expect consistent load shedding from August through to November, reports Business Insider SA:
In mid-winter Eskom will hold back on maintenance and use open cycle gas turbines to mitigate the need for rationing. But once the coldest weather passes, in August, it plans to redouble maintenance efforts (and so the planned capability loss factor or PCLF), while throttling back on diesel use.
If at any point unexpected breakdowns pass the 10,000MW mark – current levels exceed 11,700MW – while planned maintenance is being carried out, South Africa will be subjected to load shedding.
You’ve been warned, I guess.
Perhaps now is the time to start getting your ducks in a row. Make sure you have a decent UPS device at home so that you can stay connected when the lights go out (Seth found this gem a while back), and failing that, familiarise yourself with how to download Netflix shows for offline viewing.
Also, buy a few decent torches to stash around the house (yay, camping), and maybe a stress ball or two.
Then pour yourself a stiff drink. I’m not bothered what time of the day it is.
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