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Eskom: Caught in a Seemingly Never-ending Downward Spiral

Sep 16, 2021

Umm Muhammed Umar

Power utility Eskom does not believe that there will be another round of load shedding. Following the fire incident at the Kendal power station over the weekend, Eskom announced that units 2 and 3 of the power station had been shut down. This was after the damages to unit 1’s generator and transformer. Unit 1, meanwhile will only be returned to service in November. Radio Islam spoke to energy expert Ted Blom.

This past weekend at 4am on Saturday morning, unit 1’s alarm went off but was ignored. By the time it was investigated, a fire had already broken out. Blom said that a transformer doesn’t normally give problems, unless a problem has been building up for a while. He said that he had it on record that Eskom has a history of either ignoring alarms or disabling alarms. Referring to a fire on the conveyor belt at Medupi two years ago, Blom said that in that instance, the alarm system had been disabled. He said, “So, this is not something new that happened. Either there were dissolved gases in the oil of the transformer, that needed to be filtered out and that wasn’t done, or there could have been an oil leakage, which caused an alarm to go off and that wasn’t attended to quickly.”

Blom said the transformer between the generator and the transmission lines, steps the power up to 765 000 volts – which is massive voltage – and that’s what’s carried on the lines around the country. At that voltage even a small spark could start a fire. He said that because the alarm had not been attended to, by the time they discovered there was a problem, the cabling at unit 2 and 3 at Kendal, had already started burning. This was the reason why those units were no longer generating electricity and had to be shut down. That equates to two thousand megawatts off the grid from Saturday. Further, Kendal’s unit five is also off the grid due to pollution issues. Blom said that there had been a major pollution transgression at unit 5 and that Eskom was instructed to turn it off and to pay a fine. The regulatory process is still underway, and the fine has not as yet been paid. Blom speculates the transformer of unit 5 will be ‘stolen’ and installed at unit 1, so as to get it up and running again.

The Kendal power station, in total. generates just over 4000 megawatts. It was built in the late 1990’s even before Medupi and some of the other power stations. Blom says in the last 20 years the upkeep and maintenance of the stations have deteriorated tremendously.

Eskom has indicated that they will be forced to increase diesel consumption to keep costs down. Blom, however, says that diesel is actually about 5 times more expensive than coal, and with additional expenses added in, should cost 10 times more. He said, “ultimately, we the consumers, are going to be paying for this mess.”

 

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