What most consumers of electricity in South Africa are unaware of is that with an installed capacity of 43 000MW, only 32 000MW is available. Of this 10 000MW the majority is not available due to unplanned maintenance; that is breakdowns.
While the newly appointed CEO at Eskom, Tshediso Matona, was last week performing a classic mea culpa by conceding that Eskom’s woes were self-inflicted, Jacob Zuma was telling the denizens of the Western Cape that Apartheid was culpable for the current crisis. On one point Mr Matona was adamant: Eskom had breached the golden rule of plant maintenance in that it had deferred planned maintenance due to political pressure. Examples cited were the World Cup and the 2014 Elections.
What Matona failed to elaborate on was why wasn’t it performed during the intervening years? And of more importance, why weren’t new power stations built at regular intervals.
What was most incomprehensible was that despite the admission of all the sins committed by Eskom and by default the Government, the consumer would have to bear the consequences in load shedding and increased tariffs.
With Cyril Ramaphosa now on a fool’s errand to find an easy way out of the conundrum, nothing has changed.
In an article by Antoinette Slabbert in the Moneyweb, she provides yet another example of the consequences of non-maintenance. In this case it caused stoppages at the Lethabo power station between Vereeniging and Sasolburg with the loss of 1800MW of generating capacity.
An Eskom spokesman Mr Stott explained that as coal burns in the boilers, heavy ash particles settle at the bottom of the boiler. These are being sucked out by hopper units and transported by conveyor belt to the ash stacker.
Sources at Lethabo have told Moneyweb the blocked hoppers were the source of the problem, stating that management has not heeded warnings and neglected maintenance.
Stott said the coal used at Lethabo has a high ash content. The power station has been run very hard and maintenance has previously been deferred. The current problems however go beyond normal wear and tear and were triggered by lightning hitting the stack last week, causing a build-up of ash backwards in the system and the hoppers filled up and overflowed, he said. Workers at Lethabo are working around the clock to clear the ash by truck, he says. The utility is hoping to get one of the units back online over the weekend and the other two by Monday. He confirmed that some of the pipes may have to be replaced and it may take months to have the stacker and the rest of the system fully functional again.
The ash build-up at Lethabo comes as Eskom is still reeling from the collapse of one of its coal silos at its Majuba power station near Amersfoort in Mpumalanga. This has destroyed the coal feeder system and coal is temporarily being fed manually. The power station is functioning at about 70% of 3 843 MW capacity.
In another incident earlier in 2014, Unit 3 at its Duvha power station has been damaged in an incident in March and was not expected to be back online in the next two years, depriving the system of another 600MW.
In order to place the loss of 1800MW into context, Cahora Basa only provides 1500MW of power. There has been some excitement at the commissioning solar plants in the Northern Cape. As these only produce approximately 100MW, 18 will have to be installed just to replace the capacity of 3 of Lethabo’s boilers.