Energy Crisis in South Africa and its effect on the Western Cape: engagement with Eskom

Adhoc Committee on National Energy Crisis (WCPP)

24 May 2023
Chairperson: Mr C Fry (DA)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary


The Ad Hoc Committee on the Energy Crisis (the Committee) in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) convened virtually for a briefing by Eskom on the current status of the energy crisis in South Africa and its effect on the Western Cape province. A briefing by the Minister of Electricity was the main item on the agenda but he offered a last-minute apology for his non-appearance. The Committee expressed its disappointment about the unavailability of the Minister. The Procedural Officer was tasked to arrange a future engagement with the Minister.

The two issues that the Committee found most concerning were the risk of a national blackout and the disruptive impact that the frequent changes to load shedding schedules have on the lives of many citizens and the survival of businesses. Eskom assured the Committee that the risk of a national blackout is minimal because the grid is being managed by a competent team of system operators. Multiple levers are at the disposal of system operators to balance the demand and supply at any given time, depending on the state of the network and the availability of alternative options. The rapid rate at which the network is updated during an extremely short space of time necessitates frequent changes to load shedding schedules, hence the difficulty to issue advance warnings. Eskom’s key priority is to minimise load shedding to lower than stage six. Concerted efforts are being made to improve the energy availability factor (EAF) from 52% at the end of March 2023 to 65% by March 2024 and 75% by March 2025.

Meeting report

The Chairperson announced that the Minister would be joining the Committee after the Cabinet meeting. He called on the Department to proceed with the presentation.

Eskom Presentation  
Mr Calib Cassim, Acting CEO, Eskom, anticipated a difficult winter due to an increased risk of supply shortfall against expected demand. To limit outages, a number of scenarios were tested based on load losses of 15 00, 16 500, and 18 000 MW. A loss of 18 000 MW would not automatically result in stage eight load shedding because of available reserves in the system, e.g. gas turbines and pump hydro storage schemes. Eskom was doing everything in its capability to manage the system with the guidance of a competent systems operator team who has been managing the grid for the past three years. Although load shedding higher than stage six is a concern, the likelihood of a national blackout is minimal. Besides unplanned load losses, planned maintenance over winter is limited to between 1 500 and 3000 MW with much higher use of open cycle gas turbines (OCGT). The OCGT use will drop after winter because of the limited budget of R20 billion for Eskom plants and R10 billion for (Independent Power Producer) IPP plants. In stabilising the grid, the Head of Generation allocated more power station managers to some of the important plants. For example, after struggling to get one unit online at Tutuka in the recent past, three units are now operating. Over and above what Eskom is able to do to control the supply and demand balance, it is important to manage the peak through demand-side initiatives supported by industry, commercial entities, and the public. Adding more megawatts to the grid through a combination of IPPs and self-generation initiatives will assist to balance supply and demand. The establishment of the National Energy Crisis Committee (NECOM), the appointment of the Minister of Electricity, and the support from the President are some of the positive developments. Many workstreams are dealing with the electricity crisis. Eskom has been engaging the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) about the recovery of Kusile units 1, 2, and 3. It is envisaged that the three temporary stacks being constructed for additional capacity should be completed by the end of November to December 2023. Generation from the stacks is dependent on approval from the DFFE in terms of emissions and air quality requirements. Each unit would deliver 500 MW by the end of this calendar year, coupled with the commissioning of Kusile unit 5. The 18% NERSA tariff for this financial year, the 12% for the next financial year, and the R254 billion debt relief announced by the Minister of Finance allowed Eskom to release the needed CAPEX for generation, transmission, and distribution in advance for the next three years. Eskom had not been in this position for the last seven years. The relief allows for the procurement of spares and to do what is required in terms of capital expenditure. Eskom acknowledged the deteriorating EAF (Energy Available Factor) performance of 52% at the end of March 2023. The objective is to improve the EAF to 65% by March 2024 and 75% by March 2025. Eskom recognised the importance of additional bid windows in terms of renewables and the gas programme being connected to the transmission grid.

Ms Isabel Fick, Systems Operator, Eskom, drew attention to the significant demand versus supply imbalance during winter. The main problem is largely attributed to losing Kusile units 1, 2, and 3 and currently Koeberg Unit 1 is on a prolonged outage which would continue during winter. A peak demand of 43 000 MW is projected compared to the expected supply of 26 000 MW, leaving a deficit of about 6 500 MW. This did not necessarily amount to stage eight because there are a number of levers to reduce demand at any time, depending on the state of the network and the availability of the other levers. One of the levers to reduce demand is the Power Alert that is flighted on national television in the evening.

Mr Bheki Nxumalo, Head of Generation, Eskom, said this winter is going to be different because it would be the first time without one of the units at Koeberg due to a steam generator project. In addition, 3 800 WM have been lost due to problems at three of the units at Kusile. The key issue is to minimise load shedding to stage six and lower, based on the number of scenarios performed daily by the systems operators. The focus is to sustainably recover the performance of the top six priority units, i.e. Tutuka, Duvha, Majuba, Kusile, Matla, and Kendal. Medupi and the remaining units at Koeberg are performing well.

(See Presentation)


Ms D Baartman (DA) requested that the Committee be provided with a detailed analysis of the maintenance management programme, similar to the analysis included in previous presentations. She asked about the outlook for the summer season considering the reduced maintenance levels during winter. People were finding it difficult to plan for daily activities due to frequent changes in the load shedding schedules. She enquired about Eskom’s public involvement strategy to address related concerns from the public.

Ms A Cassiem (EFF) asked if Eskom did not have enough engineers and technicians to deal with the energy crisis or if the employees were not fit for purpose. She wanted to know if maintenance had been outsourced. She enquired about problems being encountered at the new power stations and if the previously decommissioned power stations would be utilised.

Mr G Brinkhuis (Al Jama-Ah) felt that something was terribly wrong when comparing the situation in India with a population of more than one billion people where there is no load shedding to South Africa with 60 million people and with load shedding. He asked how much coal is being exported to Europe.

Mr F Christian (ACDP) asked if Eskom was exporting electricity to other countries. He sought clarity on the different load shedding stages because people were finding it confusing. He asked if the deployment of the military was a result of the sabotage of power stations as reported in the media. Based on the utterances of the former CEO about money going missing, he asked if people within Eskom were saboteurs.

Mr Nxumalo undertook to provide the Committee with a detailed analysis of the maintenance plan. He said it was normal practice in the generation space to do maintenance during winter. The situation would improve in the summer with the return of the three units at Kusile. Maintenance on the main plants is performed by employees who have been with the company for many years while maintenance of turbines and boilers at auxiliary plants was outsourced to companies without the proper record of experience. The maintenance of auxiliary plants has subsequently been insourced based on a management decision. Responding to problems at the new power stations, he reported an above 90% availability at Medupi but said it was difficult to judge the performance of Kusile due to the chimney difficulties. In terms of skills, he indicated that there are adequate engineering resources between Eskom and the contractors. The artisan skills gap is being addressed through crowdsourcing and recruitment of operating staff.

Mr Cassim said the Power Alert is being used as a means to communicate with the public about using energy sparingly. Eskom is working with NECOM and the NATJOINTS to consolidate interventions on demand management. The Minister of Energy visited all power stations to engage directly with staff and is facilitating the construction of temporary stacks at Kusile until the system is stable. Eskom recognised that stacks at decommissioned units are performing well, even at the end of their economic life. The approach of EXCO and the Board, in the interest of the country, is to extend decommissioned units for a few more years with minimal investment. For example, the management team decided to invest and extend Camden because the unit was still performing well. Eskom is working with the SANDF and other law enforcement agencies to protect the assets and infrastructure of the company. Certain power stations are more problematic but it was difficult to prove sabotage. Investigations were ongoing with the support of the HAWKS, SIU, and the SAPS. He confirmed the existence of export contracts with neighbouring countries but said they experience load shedding, similar to South Africa. He did not have detail about coal exports to Europe and suggested that the Coal Industry and Minerals Council would be able to provide such information. Logistics and railway network challenges are the responsibilities of the Transport Department. From Eskom’s perspective, the coal quality is problematic hence management is working on a long-term solution.

Ms Fick confirmed that Eskom is supplying neighbouring countries with energy but they are comparatively smaller than South Africa. During peak demand, South Africa uses 34 000 MW while Lesotho is supplied with 226 MW, Namibia with 700 MW, Mozambique with 1 950 MW and Botswana with 587 MW. When South Africa has load shedding, these countries get load shed proportionally but are never completely cut off. She explained that Eskom uses more than one reduction lever for the different stages of load shedding. For example, stage six occurs when demand is reduced by 7 000 MW. The cushioning is made possible through load curtailment; i.e. when big industries are requested to reduce their loads. The voluntary Boiler Protection System (BPS) scheme allows for buying of load reductions in a virtual market. Eskom applies a number of instruments in addition to load shedding. The higher stages of load shedding did not indicate that Eskom was closer to a blackout. The network is being stabilised through load shedding to prevent a national blackout.

Ms C Murray (DA) was interested in the explanation of curtailment as a lever to prevent a blackout. She asked at which level a blackout was most likely to occur and if stage eight had previously been registered. She enquired about confirmed cases of sabotage, the status of investigations, and the role of Denel in these cases.

Mr P Marais (FF+) viewed the discussion as very technical. He asked if the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) of the DMRE was still under review and whether the consultation process included engagements with Wesgro and PetroSA. He was aware of the shale gas that PetroSA has been processing and wanted to know if Eskom engineers were sent to the Karoo to investigate the possibility of shale gas. He viewed PetroSA as being perfectly positioned to produce greenfield energy that citizens could use. He enquired about the status of the Waste to Energy Project in Athlone that was initiated by Minister de Lille. After more than R200 million was spent, the funds have dried up. He asked if job equity is applied with the appointment of top management.

Mr G Pretorius (DA) referred to the 65 – 75% recovery rates mentioned by Mr Nxumalo and the transmission challenges cited by Ms Fick. He wanted to know if the system does not provide advance warning signs because he has frequently received messages of changes in load shedding schedules at short notice.
Ms N Nkondlo (ANC) enquired about the decision to ensure that institutions such as schools and hospitals are protected from load shedding. She asked how many wind farm contracts exist in the Western Cape and which companies and industries are involved.  She wanted to know how many megawatts were saved during the 51 M campaign.

Mr C Dugmore (ANC) requested an update on the progress of the just energy transition. He asked if the surcharge levied by the Western Cape Government was lawful and if Eskom supported the practice by municipalities to deduct prepaid electricity from municipal debts.

Mr Carrim confirmed that the IRP process was continuing and that the DMRE was following a consultation process. He stated that Eskom assumptions are aligned with the IRP. He was not up to date with the IRP process in the Western Cape and did not know the details about PetroSA exploring shale gas in the Karoo. The Waste to Energy Project was not in Eskom’s outlook and forecast. PetroSA operates within the ambit of the DMRE hence the greenfield option should be discussed at that level. He explained that protecting schools, hospitals and police stations is a practical issue because it would require separate connections and feeders. Eskom was working with municipalities to balance supply and protect the grid. Responding to the question about the just transition he said Eskom was engaging social partners, including the unions. The lifespan of the units will come to an end at some point. Eskom is therefore working with communities to help them to remain economically active. The levying of a surcharge should be followed up with the regulator. It was not in Eskom’s mandate to give guidance on deducting prepaid electricity against debt. The matter should be referred to National Treasury.

Ms Fick explained that a national blackout would be caused by transmission lines cascading and generators tripping. An update of the network occurs every four seconds. Warning signs are not always possible when units are tripping. As a result, rapid changes in the stages are announced to balance demand and supply. Three planning scenarios are worked through on a daily basis to give advance warning but it is not always possible.

Mr Nxumalo said no sabotage incidents have been reported in this year, but prior year cases are being investigated. He stated that Eskom has job-fit people in service. Qualified people with the best brains are appointed.

Mr Carrim did not have detail about wind farm contracts and undertook to revert to the Committee through the Secretariat. He said that Eskom achieved 4 500 MW to date through Demand Programs and launched a national incentive program targeting 1 450 MW over three years.

The Chairperson asked whether stage eight was reached at any point.

Mr Carrim refuted that stage eight has occurred.

Ms Nkondlo wanted to know how Eskom was dealing with suppliers to ensure that quality coal is delivered. She asked if clean coal technology is being considered to reduce the carbon footprint. She enquired about the existence of battery storage projects in the Western Cape.

Ms Cassiem asked how many cases of corruption allegations are being investigated. She wanted to know when the last sabotage incident was reported and if prior year sabotage incidents could be quantified. She enquired if the Minister of Electricity would still be joining the meeting.

The Senior Procedural Officer, Ms Cloete, advised that according to the Minister’s PA, he would unfortunately not be able to join the meeting. A revised date for a future engagement would be provided.

Mr Marais asked why the Committee was not informed about solar, wind energy, or wave energy technology instead of nuclear energy if Eskom had the best technicians as claimed.

Ms Murray followed up on her question about the involvement of Denel in sabotage at Eskom and was concerned that something sinister was at play. She enquired about the reopening of the Nature Reserve at Koeberg and asked if the community has been informed and what measures were in place to secure the safety and needs of residents in the area.

Mr Carrim stated that although the board and management fully support new technologies, Eskom is not allowed to procure new technologies. Allocation for renewables is provided for within the IRP but Eskom is not allowed to participate. Studies on wave technologies were done in the past and were found to be too costly from the perspective of systems and baseload capacity.

Mr Nxumalo said Eskom has reinforced coal sampling. Battery storage projects in the Western Cape are located at three sites, two in Ceres and one in Worcester. The latest technologies are being installed in old power stations to reduce the carbon footprint and enhance transmissions. He denied Denel’s involvement in sabotage at Eskom. The SIU is mandated to deal with prior-year corruption cases. He undertook to get more detail about the reopening of the Nature Reserve at Koeberg.

The Chairperson said he is in the fortunate position to fully charge his gadgets before load shedding starts but most citizens are not able to do so. The Western Cape Premier has set aside R60 million in support of poorer communities. He was not too comfortable with the responses and called for a greater sense of urgency to end load shedding.

Mr Christian said although the likelihood of stage eight load shedding was minimal, he wanted to know how many hours of darkness would have to be endured if stage eight were to hit.

Mr Cassim replied that stage eight would mean 16 hours in a 32-hour cycle in a 24-hour window period, or with a possibility of 12 hours, equating three tranches of four hours.

Ms Nkondlo suggested more interaction with the public was needed to dispel misinformation. She was finding it difficult to explain the different stages of load shedding to poorer communities when they do not have electricity for an entire day. It is not clear whether it is due to load shedding or other factors.
Mr Cassim replied that vandalism during load shedding extends power interruption. He agreed to improve communication on demand management. Eskom is focused on supporting generation to reduce unplanned outages. The most difficult challenge is the labelling of all 40 000 Eskom employees as corrupt.

The Chairperson expressed the hope and trust that the challenges at Eskom would come to pass and wished Mr Cassim well with the task of taking Eskom forward.

Actions and resolutions
Mr Marais asked if the unanswered questions could be sent directly to the Minister for a written response.

The Chairperson noted Mr Marais’ request.

Ms Cassiem disagreed with the suggestion to submit questions to the Minister. She wanted to know if the questions should not be directed to officials on the platform.

Mr Christians agreed that the Minister should appear before the Committee and suggested that a date must be arranged as soon as possible.

Ms Baartman said the Minister must be called for another date, given the nature of the matter and the importance of implementing resolutions.

Ms Cloete agreed to relay the new date once it is obtained from the Minister’s office.

Mr Bosman suggested that it would be better to request multiple dates to determine if it could fit into the parliamentary programme.

Ms Cloete replied to Ms Cassiem that none of the officials of the Department were on the platform. She undertook to submit a list of available dates based on the dates assigned to the Committee.

Mr Marais drew attention to the comment that Eskom is not allowed to procure renewables. He cautioned that the engagement with Eskom did not give him confidence that there would not be obstacles to the Premier’s plan for the Western Cape.

The Chairperson agreed that multiple dates should be considered and to have it properly programmed in line with a response from the Minister’s office.

The Committee adopted the minutes dated 28 April 2023, with a minor amendment.

Actions and resolutions (continued)
Mr Marais was concerned that the Committee was not considering matters thoughtfully. He stated that the inverter solution might create a bigger challenge. People are encouraged to buy inverters which the government might consider banning because it is working from the same grid.

Mr Bosman was ‘similarly concerned’ that Mr Marais was unable to differentiate between Ms Maseko and Ms Nkondlo.

Ms Nkondlo proposed two resolutions. Firstly, a request for a briefing from the DMRE about the projected bid windows in support of alternative energy sources. Secondly, a request for monthly updates by Eskom on the progress to have units at Kusile, Medupi, and Koeberg restored by the target date of December 2023 to avoid stage eight, and a progress report on the three battery storage projects in the Western Cape.

The Chairperson advised that the DMRE briefing has been recorded as a resolution in previous minutes.

Noting that the DMRE is going to brief the Committee on solar projects, Ms Baartman proposed that the South African Wind Energy Association and the Photovoltaic Industry Association similarly be invited to update the Committee on their type of renewable projects. It might be useful to have them all in the same meeting to compare opinions. She supported Ms Nkondlo’s request for monthly updates by Eskom.

Mr Bosman proposed that an invitation be extended to the Ministry of Environmental Affairs to discuss the impact assessments on Power Ships. Eskom made several references about waiting for approval for the extension of coal-fired power stations and running those stations to full capacity as well as the impact it would have on air pollution. He proposed an overarching briefing from the department about the impact of the extended lifespan of aging coal power stations and if any environmental work was underway regarding the extension of the Koeberg power station due to the expiration of the nuclear reactor fuel license.

The Chairperson proposed that the invitation to the DMRE should include a request for a briefing by the Minister as well. The Committee was waiting on a response from the office of the Minister of Public Enterprises for the visit to Ankerlig on Friday, 2 June 2023. The City of Cape Town confirmed the briefing on Wednesday, 16 June 2023. SALGA is yet to confirm their attendance at the same meeting.

Ms Maseko asked the Chairperson to be mindful that legislation takes priority and that some Members might not be able to attend the Ad Hoc Committee meetings.

The Chairperson asked Ms Cloete to record Ms Maseko’s comment and liaise with the Programming Committee accordingly. He thanked Members for the robust discussion. Ms Cloete would relay the response from the office of the Minister of Electricity about future dates for a discussion with him.

The meeting was adjourned.


No related

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: