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Eskom is increasing power cuts to prevent a total collapse of the grid as issues grow from a lack of imports to breakdowns at its coal-fired plants.

The utility, which generates almost all of SA’s electricity, plans to increase load-shedding to 3,000MW on Monday due to a “significant shortfall” of generation, CEO Andre de Ruyter told reporters in an online briefing. Even the best-performing coal stations have experienced recent breakdowns and Eskom is tracking vessels with deliveries of diesel used to run turbines typically during peak demand periods.

“Extraordinary measures” are needed to improve the system, De Ruyter said. “The performance has been quite disappointing.”

There are few elements of the grid that aren’t affected by issues, putting SA on track for a record year of power cuts. That’s curbed economic activity, and the rand has also weakened amid the worsening of the electricity shortage.

Units expected to be online have been delayed, even at its newest station, while thousands of megawatts of generation are at risk as they run at reduced levels with various leaks and other problems, COO Jan Oberholzer said.

About 36% of total installed capacity is unavailable due to breakdowns and some planned maintenance and power cuts could be increased to 4,000MW if more units are lost, he said.

Even emergency reserves are under pressure. Open-cycle gas turbines, which are burning 2-million litres of diesel a day, must manage fuel use carefully. Eskom is tracking the arrival of vessels that will replenish supplies and is trying to expedite it, Oberholzer said.     

The utility is also dealing with an escalation of labour issues as one of the biggest unions representing workers there, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, is demanding a 15% wage increase. 

“Eskom is still in a loss-making situation” and costs must be managed across the board, De Ruyter said. 

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com



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