Johannesburg – Eskom has been criticised for relying on diesel to keep the lights on. Experts said the power utility should fix the broken power plants instead of relying on diesel to produce electricity.
They said using diesel to produce electricity was a sign of a broken system. This after Eskom, last week, revealed that it ran out of diesel for its open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs). The utility added changes in the stages of load shedding would be more erratic due to the absence of the buffer that is normally provided by the diesel generation capacity between generating unit breakdowns.
The utility echoed this statement on November 20, when it announced the load shedding schedule until Wednesday. The schedule included stage 5 load shedding during the evening peaks from Monday to Wednesday.
Following the statement, energy expert Chris Yelland on Monday contacted spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha, who confirmed the diesel tanks at Eskom’s OCGTs had run dry.
He said no additional diesel had been ordered due to the budget overrun. Mantshantsa told Yelland Eskom had spent R11 billion on diesel this financial year, twice the budgeted amount. Mantshantsha said unless someone comes up with the money, Eskom would have to wait until April 1, 2023, for diesel to be replenished.
Energy expert Adil Nchabeleng said Eskom had been warned to maintain power plant failures but opted to neglect their responsibilities. Nchabeleng said the power utility had now been forced to use diesel to keep the lights on.
“The use of diesel is a reaction to the situation because they knew about the power plant's failures. They are sitting with almost 18 000 megawatts of unavailable electricity due to the fact that plants are breaking down. What they have been doing has been treating the same thing using diesel generators which are used for emergency,” he said.
Nchabeleng said using diesel generators was only an option for emergencies, but the utility had now turned it into a permanent feature. He said the use of diesel was to avoid the maintenance of power plants.
On Wednesday, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told Members of Parliament the government identified 50 million litres of diesel to make immediately available to Eskom from PetroSA as the utility awaited a more permanent solution to its diesel supply.
He said the options were identified along with Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana for a more permanent solution to the diesel challenge.
Nchabeleng said this was a waste of time, saying Eskom should focus on fixing the broken power plants to be able to keep the lights on.
“There is a need for proper fixing and maintenance of power plants. The real problem is not diesel but power plants that are not working. We need to shift our focus to power plants that are not working and fix them,” said Nchabeleng.
According to Nchabeleng, this would cost Eskom an estimated R15bn to R20bn to fix the broken power plants. He said it was suspicious that the utility opted to divert the budget into the supply of diesel instead of fixing and maintaining the broken power plants.
“This shows that someone is benefiting, and I would really like to know who is the supplier of diesel to Eskom at this stage. That information is not public. It doesn't make sense why Eskom would spend over R10bn on diesel supply,” he said.
The sentiments were echoed by Eskom’s former chief executive Matshela Koko, who said burning diesel to keep the lights on was a sign of a broken system. Koko also said the solution to this crisis was the maintenance of power plants.
“The solution is not to spend more money on diesel or build wind and solar plants. Eskom maintenance efforts must start yielding the desired results. That’s the only solution. It is unacceptable that Eskom spends a lot of money on maintenance, and yet blackouts are getting worse,” he said.
Koko also responded to Gordhan, saying the burning of 50 million litres of diesel a month instead of 10 million litres per year would bankrupt any business.
“Especially when the diesel costs are not recoverable through the National Energy Regulator of SA (NERSA) clearing account," he said.