Plan to address Eskom challenges afoot

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Nine Point Plan is set to go a long way in turning the fortunes of Eskom around at a time when the utility is facing major challenges, its Group Chief Executive Officer Phakamani Hadebe said on Friday.

“Eskom has undergone trying times, during the past couple of years and it’s up to us those who have the privilege to work at Eskom to do their level best to bring this institution where it belongs,” he said.

Briefing media at the power utility’s head office at Megattwatt Park in Johannesburg, Hadebe spoke of the challenges and steps needed to tackle them.

“The journey is not going to be easy to turn the institution around,” said Hadebe, who was appointed to the top post on a permanent basis in May.

Hadebe said “painful” decisions have to be taken going forward, adding that while these decisions have to be taken, this does not “exonerate us from some of the decisions we’ve made”.

The Nine Point Plan is aimed at addressing pressing challenges at the utility, including fixing full load losses and trips, fixing coal stock-piles issues, addressing challenges at new plants as well as fixing units on long-term forced outages, among others.

Distribution and transmission matter

On the distribution and transmission matter, Eskom is facing severe challenges including the deterioration of coal power stations and coal stock-piles.

Currently 10 power stations have less than 20-day coal stock-piles. “That’s a challenge, we’ve made an effort in changing the status quo, but we haven’t reached a level where the situation is totally different,” said Hadebe.

While the causes of these challenges are inherent, some of the challenges experienced “happened in our midst”.

With less than adequate stock-piles, the utility has had to rely more on Open Cycle Gas Turbine (OCGTs). “The manifestation is that the EAF [energy availability factor] for financial year 2018 is 74.2% - that is not adequate we need 75% to be adequate.”

Load shedding and maintenance

The current system is not optimal, he said, adding that load shedding cannot be ruled out for the remainder of the year. Eskom has urged the public to use electricity sparingly over peak times.

Regarding maintenance, the utility said planned maintenance will increase to around 9% at the end of the year. “That is deliberate, we need to spend more time on maintenance. Unplanned maintenance is currently sitting at 15.7% and that is high. This is one area that needs special attention that we can focus on if we are to ensure that the South African economy grows and is sustainable,” said Hadebe.

The power utility is also keen to address fix partial load losses.

Over the next 12 to 24 months, Eskom has set a budget capex (capital expenditure) of R8.2 billion. If done well is expected to reduce a lot of unplanned maintenance. The biggest culprits when it comes to partial load losses are the Arnot, Kendal and Duvha power stations.

Distribution and build programme

On distribution, the power utility has reduced outage duration at 34.9% versus a target of 38%, while the new build programme has also made progress. Medupe Unit 3 and 2 have been synchronised to the national grid.

Teething problems at new build stations

The utility said while good progress has been made on the build programme, teething problems have surfaced.

Located in Mpumalanga, the Kusile Power Station has experienced the most teething problems to date. Older plants like Majuba and Camdem when they were built, experienced similar challenges.

Hadebe said he was not worried about this as it took around 18 to 24 months for new stations to perform optimally.

On the issue of power station managers, the utility stated that it is working hard to address the matter of several acting power station managers.

Eskom Executive Andrew Etzinger said skilled professionals are needed. Currently there are seven acting power station managers at Eskom’s 15 coal fired power stations.

Lethabo repairs

Meanwhile, the power utility also gave an update of progress at its Lethabo power plant.

An explosion at Unit 5 of the Free State based power plant last month led to the death of an employee. Initially, the utility said, the unit will remain out of action for three months.

On Friday, Eskom said investigations were ongoing and repairs could take anything from six to 12 months to be completed.

Fighting corruption

Meanwhile, Hadebe stressed that the fight against corruption at the utility is ongoing. To date there have been 1 049 investigations of which 849 have been finalised, while a further 250 people have been placed on suspension.

Earlier in the day, the power utility announced the suspension of Executive for Group Capital Division Abram Masango following allegations of impropriety.

The allegations relate to the Kusile project. -