Friday, May 30, 2008

Blackouts: Prepare for the worst

Imagine TWO WEEKS with no power at all. No cooking, no warming yourself in winter (or fanning in summer), no lights, nothing.

I hope you’ve got the solar panels up, the windmill power generator running and plenty of fuel for the power generators – just in case.

Don’t put anything beyond the ANC and Eskom being able to bring this monumental stuff-up to fruition. If there is one thing the ANC has proven it can do well, it is f**k up on a grand scale.

Here’s the defining statement, according to Maroga: "Of course we want to have zero unplanned outages, but the reality is that that is a fantasy,"

Having no outages is a “fantasy”? Not in most countries where efficient, competent staff are employed that are able to forward plan, maintain and run the equipment.

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Eskom on Thursday warned that it could take about two weeks to bring South Africa's power system back up if it were to collapse.

Speaking at a breakfast presentation, Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga said SA had not experienced a nationwide blackout despite being on the brink of collapse in January this year.

"I don't want to be alarmist," said Maroga, "but the consequence of a nationwide blackout is not fully understood."

While Eskom has suspended planned load-shedding following a reduction in consumer demand over the past few months, Maroga warned that the threat of load-shedding and to the system as a whole would remain until the utility had restored its reserve margin.

"The system remains tight, and a tight reserve margin requires the use of emergency measures more often," Maroga said.

A fall in reserve margin, the additional power available in the system that allows it to be run securely, has forced Eskom to run its power stations harder.

This has resulted in additional primary energy costs and consequently in the utility's request for an increase in electricity tariffs.

Secure supply and cheap electricity was the result of excess capacity enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Days of cheap power are over.

Both Eskom and the government have warned that the days of cheap electricity are over. Maroga said policy-, regulatory- and planning issues conspired to get Eskom to where it was today.

"The situation we are in is deep, it is serious and it's material," he said.

Since January's declaration of a national power crisis following the forced shutdowns of mines and rolling blackouts countrywide, Eskom has undertaken some maintenance, limited further unplanned outages, brought an additional 2 600MW on stream and improved its coal stockpiles to 18 days.

"Of course we want to have zero unplanned outages, but the reality is that that is a fantasy," said Maroga.

Eskom is hoping to limit its unplanned outages to 2 500MW at any one time, but this cannot be guaranteed.

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