How to beat load-shedding: maintain power plants like an old car

Eskom’s Matla power station. Energy expert Chris Yelland says power plants should be regularly maintained while the country moves towards renewable sources of electricity such as wind and solar energy.
Image: Eskom

Eskom should improve the performance of its plants by putting extensive maintenance measures in place to avoid load-shedding in the short term.

Energy expert Chris Yelland made this comment following Eskom’s announcement of the beginning of stage 2 load-shedding on Wednesday morning.

Six Eskom units were down with boiler tube leaks, a conveyor feeding coal to Medupi power station broke down and there were also technical problems at Grootvlei power station. The Medupi conveyor breakdown resulted in the power station running at less than half of its capacity.

Yelland said that for Eskom to ensure adequate power generation in the short term, the power utility needed proper maintenance of its generation fleet.

“The problem is that Eskom’s generation fleet is old and operating hard,” he said.

Likening it to an old car, he said Eskom power plants needed to be maintained regularly.

Yelland said the boiler tube leaks were normal wear and tear items, which needed continuous work.

“Eskom should spend money on maintenance, but there are limits to what can be done because most of the generating units are old,” Yelland said.

Yelland said that in the medium term, the country could look into large renewable sources such as wind and solar energy – but this would take at least three years for those plants to be commissioned.

The longer-term solution was for the country to look at new coal and nuclear plant builds, which could take more than a decade to happen.

Yelland said the fundamental problem regarding power supply in SA was that Eskom was the only major generator of power, about 95% of SA’s electricity. Another problem was that 80% of all electricity came from coal.

He suggested that the country should move to diversify its energy sources.

“My opinion is that Eskom should be unbundled into generation, transmission and distribution companies.

“The generation should be unbundled to have five generation companies and there should be independent power producers. Generation should be spread all over the country,” Yelland said.

BY ERNEST MABUZA

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