[DEBATE] : All power plants under capacity
Riaz K Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Tue Jan 29 15:59:50 GMT 2008
All power plants under capacity
Samantha Enslin-Payne, Business Report, Johannesburg, 29 January 2008
Durban - Not a single one of Eskom's coal-fired power stations, which
should supply 90 percent of the country's electricity, is operating at
Difficulties in coal supply, technical problems or planned maintenance
have wiped out a quarter of the utility's capacity.
Yesterday 9 745 megawatts of Eskom's net maximum capacity of 37 761MW
was out of commission. On Friday 8 788MW was unavailable.
Despite this Eskom said it did not shed any load yesterday because 138
big industrial customers had "voluntarily" cut consumption to stabilise
the system. This meant many mines were closed for a fourth day.
Steve Lennon, Eskom's managing director of resources and strategy, said:
"The situation we are in means we can no longer guarantee uninterrupted
supply" to big industrial users.
Although there were no outages, residential demand had to be reduced.
"We have to find a way to get major industrial customers back on line,"
The problems at power stations are mostly related to fuel: either wet
coal, a shortage of coal or poor quality coal.
"About 5 000MW is being impacted by coal," Lennon said.
Of the unavailable capacity yesterday, 3 715MW was off line due to
planned maintenance, some of which is due to be completed by next week.
However, maintenance at Koeberg's unit 2, for example, will only be
finished at the end of April.
Unplanned outages put 4 235MW out of commission yesterday. These were
due, among other things, to boiler tube leaks, a build up of ash and
blockages due to wet coal.
Other coal problems and technical issues took a further 1 795MW off line.
These figures come from a confidential daily system status report by
Eskom, which was leaked to Business Report. The report was obtained
because the utility has refused to detail the nature of the breakdowns
that have plagued its network over the past two weeks, widening the gap
between electricity demand and supply.
Trade union Solidarity has pinned the technical problems on
inexperienced staff and affirmative action.
The problems include boiler tube leaks, contamination of purified
coolant water, damaged transformers, lack of clearance of rejected
particles from coal and removal of ash.
Bennie Blignaut, Solidarity's general secretary at Eskom, said: "Power
stations are highly technical areas." Experienced plant operators who
had retired or been lured overseas had been replaced by less skilled people.
Lennon said the notion that there were skills shortages at power
stations was nonsense.
Eskom employs about 33 000 people, including 1 550 engineers, and each
year it requires 276 new engineers. By the end of last year it had
employed 190, but it said the gap would be closed by the end of the
financial year in March by drawing from its pipeline of university
students on bursaries.
The utility has 6 508 artisans and needs to employ 70 a year. By the end
of 2007 it had recruited 837. Eskom said it was "overrecruiting"
artisans to cater for its future needs.
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