Boiler tube leaks triggers stage 6 blackouts in South Africa

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  • Minister in the Presidency for Electricity, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, says teams are working around the clock to return to service the units that have contributed to load shedding being intensified to stage 6.
  • The  country’s state owned and state run energy utility, Eskom, announce stage 6 load shedding 9 blackouts over the weekend.
  • This means state the people of South Africa can endure no power for between 4 and  10 hours daily. Read more
  • Currently, Eskom, has 24480MW out of service against a coal fired generation capacity of just over 38000MW.

Giving an update on the performance of the grid following the escalated levels of load shedding, Ramokgopa on Sunday said boiler tube leaks at nine units contributed to the load shedding being bumped up to stage 6.

Ramokgopa said from Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week, 4 400 megawatts were taken off the grid.

“Eskom management has taken a decision, having identified boiler tube leaks as a major area of concern that undermines the availability of these units, to work directly with the original equipment manufacturers, so that they do not go through the middleman. They are engaging with the people who had designed these units.

“The people who know the DNA of these units are the ones who are assigned the responsibility to deal with this, so that we are able to do a proper root cause analysis, and be able to diagnose and then provide a prognosis, and return these units to service at the quickest possible period of time, having taken into account all safety concerns,” Ramokgopa said.

The power stations whose units had contributed to the 4 400 megawatts include Lethabo, Matimba, Duvha, Majuba, Camden, Grootvlei, Kriel and Medupi.

Coal Power Plan Diagram Showing Power Station showing the coal energy generation process. Image credit: PPT Slides

“Our planned maintenance is at about 7 000MW… If it means we ramp up load shedding for the purposes of conducting planned maintenance… we will be able to return the units healthier… for the long-term gain,” said Ramokgopa.

Ramokgopa said two of the units, Lethabo 5 and Kriel 2, have since come back online, with work underway to get the unit at Medupi back online.

The Minister added that Matimba 2, Kendal 3 and 4 are expected to return today.

“We are expecting to return [the other units]that failed… by Wednesday. By Tuesday, we are expecting to see a significant reduction, going back to stages 4, 3, 2, and 1 [of load shedding]… As part of planned maintenance, a significant portion of units will come back towards the beginning and end of March, where we will be moving from 7 000MW, to lower levels of between 5 000MW and 6 000MW, where you are going to see significantly improved intensity of load shedding.

The Minister said by March, they are expecting to see significant improvements in the intensity of load shedding.

“We can account for the sources of failure. We know what the issues are… We are working on ensuring that we return these units, and if there are other issues, the board and the executive will look at that,” Ramokgopa said.

Meanwhile over the past 48 hours, Eskom has announced that they have successfully replenished their pumped storage dam levels and bringing back some generation units back to service. This enabled the reduction of loadshedding to Stage 5 from 12:00 midday until further notice. Eskom will closely monitor the power system and communicate any changes to loadshedding should it be required.

Unplanned outages are at 17 595MW of generating capacity, while the capacity out of service for planned maintenance is at 6 885MW.

Eskom says their Power Station General Managers and their teams continue to work diligently to ensure that a total of 3 200MW is returned to service by Wednesday evening.

Generation capacity in decline

Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) is in a state of year on year decline. The EAF for the full 2023 calendar year dropped to 54.71%, compared to 58.11% for the full 2022 calendar year. Eskom has also confirmed that load-shedding will remain an be a daily occurrence throughout 2024.

Eskom System Operator outlook for load-shedding in South Africa for the next year. Image credit: Eskom

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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