(Left to right) Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe,Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan and Eskom chairman Jabu Mabuza brief the media on the develoments on the recent outages on April 2 2019. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/THAPELO MOREBUDI
(Left to right) Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe,Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan and Eskom chairman Jabu Mabuza brief the media on the develoments on the recent outages on April 2 2019. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/THAPELO MOREBUDI

Eskom and the government are aiming for no load-shedding until the end of August, with stage one being the worst-case scenario.

Reporting back on the work of the Eskom technical review team, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said on Wednesday that there was now a better understanding of the challenges Eskom faced, as well as the possible solutions for these.

Although the technical review team’s work is not yet done, and will require another week or two, it has played an “important role in sharpening our understanding as to what must be done to get better performance from Eskom power stations”, Gordhan said.

The utility has been struggling to catch up on years of inadequate maintenance,which has led to a raft of operational issues and unplanned outages.

March 23 marked the last day of load-shedding after 10 consecutive days of severe power cuts. It was the worst bout of load-shedding SA has experienced yet, with consumers and businesses suffering the impact. The long-delayed and overbudget Medupi and Kusile power stations are also not performing optimally as they begin to come on line.

Gordhan appointed the review team in early March to investigate Eskom’s operational issues. This follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment of a sustainability task team in December, which was tasked with advising on how to turn the troubled utility around.

The work of the review team, as well as that done by the sustainability task team and by Eskom itself has yielded a winter plan for the period spanning from June to the end of August. This plan entails no load-shedding, with stage-one load-shedding anticipated as the worst-case scenario.

Eskom group CEO Phakamani Hadebe talks to Business Day TV bout the technical review team’s report and plans to avoid load-shedding

There is also a nine-month plan, which will lay the basis for a more sustainable, long-term situation for the power system.

“We have an aim to have no load shedding,” said Gordhan. “This requires we execute our plans at 110%, not even 100%.”

This requires discipline and rigor of implementation and an “important culture change” at Eskom which calls for accountability and consequence management.

In terms of the plan, if unplanned outages can be kept to less than 9,500MW, there will be no load-shedding. If more than 9,500MW are lost due to unplanned outages, there will be a maximum of 26 days of load shedding, but it will be limited to stage one.

Eskom systems operator Bernard Magoro said he was fairly confident unplanned outages could be kept to below 9,500MW and noted that the power plants, in fact, operated better in winter.

Gordhan also appealed to the public to do everything possible to reduce the use of electricity in order to assist with the national plan.

Eskom’s problems are not just operational but also financial. With a R420bn debt burden, the utility’s monthly debt service costs are more than its income from operations, while electricity sales continue to decline.

Because R350bn of Eskom’s debt is guaranteed by the government, the prospect of the utility failing has been flagged by ratings agencies as the single-largest risk to the economy.

steynl@businesslive.co.za