The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) recently encouraged State-owned power utility, Eskom, to continue communicating with the business community on the status of the power grid over the short- to medium-term, but said that South African businesses are already prepared for down time, which will affect production levels and sales.
Pietman Roos, senior policy consultant at SACCI warned Cape Businesses, “Over the upcoming festive season, tourism and hospitality businesses will be the most affected. However there are enough mitigating measures in place to work around possible power supply issues.”
“The South African business community has been very innovative in adapting to the power supply situation over the years. This is why SACCI emphasises the need for clear communication between Eskom and its end-users, which will make it easier for businesses to plan around possible problems.”
Roos goes on to explain ways some businesses have prepared for ‘down-time.’
“South African businesses have proven how innovate and robust they are. Emergency power generators are now essential for most businesses. There has also been a lot of work done with alternative energy. Solar power can be used to power lights, and gas can be used for restaurants and hospitality businesses. “
SACCI CEO, Neren Rau, said “South Africa is now emerging from significant economic pressures following the protracted industrial action in the mining and manufacturing sectors. Businesses in these sectors urgently need to use the remaining time left in the year to recoup lost production.”
This was due to a collapsed coal storage silo at its Majuba power station. The silo, which stores over 10,000 tons of coal, cracked on Saturday afternoon, and later collapsed entirely, damaging vital infrastructure needed to run the power station. This affected coal supplies to all six units at the power station. It was generating 1,300 Megawatt (MW) at the time.
However, in a system update, Eskom reported that the risk of rotational load shedding had reduced “significantly and the prognosis for the week is better than expected.”
It said it is not anticipating any need to introduce load shedding on Tuesday, having avoided rollingblackouts on Monday. This was partly attributed to a better-than-expected recovery at the Majuba power station.
The incident spurred the first load shedding incident of the new summer maintenance season, and the second of 2014, with rotational shedding having also been implemented on March 6. The March event, which was caused by coal delivery problems, was the first since 2008.
The short-term solution to this weekend’s collapse required additional front-end loaders to shovel coal at the stockyard onto trucks that would deliver coal to conveyors that feed the units’ coal bunkers. An initial rate of 15 loads an hour was envisaged at a single feeder point, which was likely to be doubled at a later stage.
Nevertheless, Eskom warned that the system would be under “extreme pressure on Wednesday and Thursday as the water reserves that [it] built up over the weekend for our peaking plants will be depleted”.
Trade union Solidarity argued on Monday that Eskom had been aware of structural problems with the silo for months and accused the company of negligence. Solidarity said in a statement that Eskom workers had been monitoring resonances at the silo since January and that, by June, and again three weeks prior to the collapse, it had been found that the silo’s vibration had worsened.
“Vibration of a concrete structure is extremely problematic. The vibration caused or worsened weaknesses in the silo and as the vibration increased, it eventually led to the collapse,” Solidarity’s head of the energy industry Deon Reyneke said.
Reyneke also warned that the temporary measures being implemented could jeopardise safety at the power station.
“Through its negligence, Eskom is placing its employees at risk. To fully supply all six units at the power station, hundreds of trucks per hour have to offload coal at temporary conveyors close to the furnaces. Apart from the risk of truck accidents and higher operating costs, it also holds a fire hazard."
Eskom has denied these claims.