Large-scale load shedding might return in May when the lockdown is lifted, Eskom warns – and that could last until August 2021.
Bheki Nxumalo, head of generation at Eskom, told the Sunday Times he fears the likelihood is high that load shedding will become a reality for South Africans once businesses and industries can reopen, possibly in May.
Chris Yelland, energy expert and managing director of EE Business Intelligence, says “systemic damage” may already have been done to the economy through a combination of the recession, COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdown.
If the lockdown is lifted at the end of April, a sluggish economy could mean load shedding will be avoided for a while before being needed again.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, according to Yelland, because it means either the economy is stalled and we don’t get load shedding, or the economy’s last bit of life is squeezed by load shedding.
Eskom’s need for maintenance means that if the economy resumes as usual in May, there will be significant power shortages.
Eskom’s 15 coal-fired power stations supply 82% of all the power generated by the utility company and are expected to supply about 36,000 megawatts (MW). These stations, however, only worked at about 55% efficiency before the lockdown.
Eskom’s energy availability report for the second week of March, just before the shutdown came into effect, shows that its total available energy (thus across all types of power plants) was only 61.97% of its full capacity. This incredibly low figure is largely due to the age and therefore unreliability of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations.
The average age of Eskom’s most important coal-fired power stations is now 40 years. Coal power stations are only designed to stay in operation for 50 years.