Eskom Watch

Brace yourself for enduring electricity woes

Not even apartheid could cause this damage
Eskom power.jpg

South African electricity consumers and the country’s economy as a whole must brace themselves for an enduring crisis as 2015’s round of load shedding has started earlier than expected this past Friday.

Illustrating the fact that Eskom’s management itself is in the dark as to what to expect, as we reported last week, its announcement via social media of the implementation of load shedding went out an hour after it had already started.

Information, including visuals, received since our report of last week on the problems with its important IT-based information management system revealed to what extent communication from the state-owned utility usually hides rather than reveals the truth.

In April of last year the utility, for example, described problems at its Duvha power station as resulting from “a boiler tube alarm” which caused “the boiler (to) trip on a high pressure alarm. Upon inspection, damage was observed in the boiler and surrounding equipment”.

Truth is, as illustrated by the picture used with this article, the boiler was ripped apart. Extensive damage was also done to the turbine hall structure that houses this particular boiler and five other units.

It was only by a stroke of luck that the entire station was not lost in the incident, which was caused, ironically, by a test of the turbine overspeed protection system that went horribly wrong.

The normal operating speed of the turbine is 3 000 rpm with a governor valve controlling the incoming steam. There is a main isolation valve as back-up to cut steam off completely if needed and someone at a manual trip switch if all else fails.

During the test steam feed was increased. The turbine designed to withstand between 10 – 15% over speed saw its revolutions increase by a massive 50% to 4 500. The man at the trip switch was missing in action and the unit disintegrated with a big bang.

And this is what Eskom’s spokesperson described as a “trip” of a boiler!

This raises the question of what is the real truth behind Eskom’s tweet last Friday at 12:00: "Due to the electricity demand that has exceeded the supply; Eskom implemented load shedding Stage 1 from 11h00 until 22h00 tonight."

Some hint at the truth

Earlier Eskom spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe, by implication admitted that the grid was constrained because it missed its December deadline for the first supplies from the new Medupi power station.

Our information also indicated that President Jacob Zuma was so wide of the mark with his claims that apartheid is to blame for Eskom’s problems that his colleague Blade Nzimande should maybe talk to him about stoking racism.

The reasons for the state of disintegration Eskom’s infrastructure can be traced back to the man who in the 2013/14 financial year received a R1.9 million bonus and a R20 million-plus golden handshake when he left the utility at the end of March last year.

Brain Dames, Eskom’s former CEO between 2010 and 2014, slashed the utility’s maintenance budget by 80%, despite warnings from senior staff members of dangerous maintenance problems at a number of power stations, including Lethabo in the Vaal Triangle which nearly came to a standstill in November last year.

Some hint of where Dames was coming from also came in the comments by Phasiwe who said Eskom’s financial issues were partly responsible for the country’s rolling blackouts.

At the same time he said about the constraints: “We need money to buy parts for the maintenance, but that is not the only reason. Maintenance in the previous years, from about 2010, has been deferred,” illustrating to what extent Eskom has become an institution chasing its own tail.

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by Piet Coetzer

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