SA shortfalls worsen local power crisis


    On Wednesday, BPC officials and other energy sources told BusinessWeek that the load shedding programme, initiated in February, had deepened, widened and become more erratic due to unstable supplies from Eskom in South Africa.

    Current local demand is estimated at 550 megawatts (MW), with local generation hovering between 260 and 300 MW from two power peaking plants in Orapa and Matshelagabedi as well as one unit at Morupule B.The balance is sourced from Eskom under a contract for 100MW firm and another 200 MW non-firm meaning it is available only when Eskom has catered for South African needs.

    BusinessWeek has learnt that tighter South African circumstances caused by higher winter usage and maintenance on some plants, caused local shortfalls of up to 140MW forcing the BPC to cut power across the country for longer. BPC officials explained that the current power cuts are wildly erratic as they depend on Eskom’s supply/demand balance for South Africa, which in turn varies from hour to hour.

    “The people we are buying from have their own problems and while they have always supported us, of late they have asked us, with notice of as little as 10 minutes, to cut up to 140MW,” said a senior BPC executive.”At this point, we have to see what to do. It also does not help that power demand in the entire region peaks at the same time (winter) meaning our problems deepen.”

    According to the executive, within the 10 minute warning, the BPC would have to decide which areas would share the shortage, while protecting critical industry and services such as mining, health and security. The electricity system would collapse if the BPC was unable to shed the required load within the specified time, the executive said.

    “Francistown and Gaborone require about 100MW but we cannot switch them off only and instead, within that 10 minutes, we have to decide how to share the load and allocate it.”The latest deepening of the power crisis comes after South Africa warned its citizens of possible blackouts over winter due to plant maintenance. Botswana, meanwhile, is battling to fully operationalise Morupule B, with recent reports that the sole operating unit is also facing cracks that paralysed units one and two.
    BPC spokesperson Spencer Moreri explained that the load-shedding programme had become erratic as the current published schedule was designed for shortfalls not exceeding 50MW.”When this, for example, is 100MW it would mean switching off the whole of Gaborone and Francistown,” he said when contacted for comment.

    “We try to share the responsibility throughout the country within the notice period we have been given by the supplier. Load-shedding is designed to regulate when demand outstrips supply in order to save the integrity of the system and prevent collapse.”We cannot store power and so when it is in short supply suddenly, we are forced to cut, often without the ability to warn consumers.”

    The spokesperson said the power situation would improve in July when more units from the Morupule B power station are expected to be back on line. At present, only unit three is operational and it is reportedly running with cracks that will require servicing as soon as the other units are repaired.Moreri added that allegations of favouritism in the selection of areas to be affected by load shedding were groundless.

    “There are some people complaining about the fairness of load shedding and as a Corporation, we are trying by all means to ensure that we supply all our customers fairly as we value all of them equally,” he said.Some businesses, particularly manufacturing, have called on the BPC to be sensitive to their economic roles in its load shedding, warning that jobs were on the line. The BPC is reportedly developing a new load shedding schedule to cater for shortages of up to 100 MW.

    However, the corporation has refused to commit to any schedule arguing that the precarious power supply situation precludes it from doing so. Committing to a load shedding schedule could also expose the BPC to lawsuits from businesses and other affected consumers, it is understood.