Eskom blackouts: blame it on the rain.

Despite Eskom’s suspension of load shedding on Sunday, the power utility could not rule out another blackout as continued maintenance, increased demand and more rain pose a risk for more load shedding. South Africans were given a reprieve from load shedding on Sunday but the lights could go out again as Eskom continues to implement maintenance and the rain that affected its coal supply is expected to continue.

The power utility announced that it would suspend load shedding from 8am on Sunday after sufficiently improving generation capacity.  Eskom said it would be implementing Stage 2 load shedding through the weekend, after heavy rains in Mpumalanga and Limpopo affected the transfer of coal to units.

“Since Friday evening, Eskom teams returned four generation units to service at the Medupi Power Station as the coal constraints improved. Another two units also returned to service during the same period while the emergency generation reserves have sufficiently recovered,” the power utility said in a statement.

On Friday, the Lephalale area where Medupi and Matimba Power Stations are located, received 65mm of rain, said Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha.

Despite still having some “water issues” at these stations, the rains have now “significantly reduced” allowing the plants to sufficiently operate, Mantshantsha told a national publication.

“The wet coal means [we] are not able to run the station at totally full capacity but we are able to continue burning the coal right now with this amount of rain,” said Mantshantsha.

Eskom currently has 4,664 MW out on planned maintenance, while another 13,539 MW of capacity is unavailable due to breakdowns, Eskom said in the statement.

About 40.9% of Eskom’s generation capacity was not available for service in the week of 25-31 January, according to Eskom’s Weekly System Status Report. The report indicates that for the week ending on Monday, 1 February, on average 10.52% of the utility’s plant was down for planned maintenance, 26.55% was down because of unplanned outages and 3.84% was out of service due to other outage factors.

The power utility’s three-month outlook for energy demand and generating capacity, included in the report, indicates an increased likelihood of load shedding for most of 2021.

“The risk of load shedding remains elevated because [Eskom] has increased the maintenance,” said Mantshantsha.

The flooding in parts of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and the easing of certain lockdown restrictions resulting in “economic activity slowly picking up”, have increased the demand for power, said Mantshantsha.

“We will have this increased risk of load shedding for quite some time,” he said. Once the maintenance is near completion, the risk will be reduced – but “of course not eliminated,” Mantshantsha added.

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