Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa says he is confident that South Africa’s electricity situation will improve heading into the last quarter of the year, as the Kusile Power Station will be adding much-needed capacity to the grid, providing a buffer for increased maintenance elsewhere.

However, until that happens, the country will continue to dance on a knife’s edge as available power supply remains unpredictable amid planned and unplanned outages.

Addressing the media on Sunday (10 September), the minister said that the recent escalation in load shedding has been due to a trifecta of issues: demand remains high and often unpredictable; Eskom has suffered several outages; and planned maintenance has ramped up following the winter cut.

Eskom pushed load shedding to stage 6 this past week, easing only slightly as the weekend neared.

Load shedding is currently at stage 1, with Eskom announcing on Friday that outages will again ramp up to stage 4 in the evening.

Ramokgopa said that the outlook for the week is that load shedding will be kept to stage 2 or stage 3. A full schedule for the coming week is expected later in the afternoon.

The minister said that with planned maintenance ramping up again, the country desperately needs a buffer in capacity to avoid load shedding escalating.

Luckily, he said, three units at Kusile are expected to come back online starting November and ending December, with another unit – Kusile Unit 5 – coming online in October.

“Kusile sits on a critical path to ending load shedding,” Ramokgopa said, adding that the ministry will be visiting the station this week to assess progress being made on the repairs.

He alluded to comments made by Eskom in August, where the group said there is a possibility that Kusile could be coming online sooner than planned.

One unit was planned to be back online at the end of November 2023, with the remaining two units back up in December.

The group said it now sees the potential for at least two units to be back up by mid-November, with the final one following in December.

While the utility has not fully committed to these dates, it is still the plan to add 2,880 MW from the Kusile units back to the grid before the end of the year.

“Those timelines that we have shared with you of the three units coming online in November and the rest in December; those timelines were determined much earlier – (the team) has been hard at work to see if it’s possible to truncate that,” the minister said.

“They have been working on that for the last three months, so if there are any new timelines that are earlier, it’s because of that work. For now, we are sticking to those (original) timelines.”

In the meantime, however, Ramokgopa said that the government and Eskom will not compromise on the ramping up planned maintenance, which will keep the grid under pressure with little room for failure.

“If (planned maintenance) coincides with a number of units failing on their own, then you are exposed. And the only option available to us is intensified load shedding.”

He said that it is better to take units out and fix them before they fail by themselves, and the maintenance requirements are worse.

“It is a calculated risk. We are going to do this the right way; we are going to fix these units. It’s a short-term pain for long-term gain,” he said.

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