Eskom load shedding
(Getty Images)
  • Eskom suspended load shedding from 12:00 to 17:00 on Friday to allow "Parliament to pass a series of Appropriation Bills".
  • This "exception" was previously afforded to South Africa during the memorial service of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in March.
  • Staving off load shedding is made possible through the use of diesel-fuelled Open Cycle Gas Turbine power.
  • This supplementary power costs R500,000 per OCTG per hour, according to an Eskom spokesperson.
  • It's estimated that parliament's five-hour reprieve could've cost as much as R22.5 million.
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South Africa’s embattled power utility Eskom managed to stave off load shedding for five hours on Friday afternoon, allowing for Parliament to pass a series of Appropriation Bills. To do this, Eskom has relied on several diesel-fuelled Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCTG) to generate supplementary electricity.

Due to a number of breakdowns at critical generating units coinciding with a rise in electricity usage with the arrival of winter, Eskom has implemented a rotational load shedding schedule which is due to last until Sunday.

Breakdowns at Kriel, Arnot, Majuba, and Tutuka Power Stations have sapped up to 15,360MW of Eskom's capacity. A further 1,580MW has been rendered unavailable due to planned maintenance on the utility's ailing infrastructure. Of Eskom's total generating capacity of approximately 47,000MW, a third is unavailable due to breakdowns and maintenance.

READ | We tracked the notice Eskom typically gives for load shedding – and 5 minutes is unusual

Eskom's reduced generating capacity, leading to Stage 2 load shedding, has fluctuated between 30% and 40% for much of the year, with the utility issuing near-weekly warnings of the system's "severely constrained" state.

And while load shedding has become a frustrating part of South African life – and is expected to continue at varying stages for at least another 18 months – the country was afforded a brief reprieve on Friday afternoon.

Following a "request to Eskom from the Deputy Speaker of Parliament", the utility announced that it would suspend load shedding from 12:00 to 17:00 to allow "Parliament to pass a series of Appropriation Bills". Once "essential" government business had been concluded, load shedding would be reinstated and last until 22:00 on Sunday 6 June, Eskom said.

This isn't the first time Eskom has managed to suspend load shedding for the sake of national interests.

In March, the utility put Stage 2 load shedding on hold to "help the country in general and the Zulu nation in particular to pay its respects to the departed monarch" Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. Load shedding was suspended between 10:00 and 14:00 during the King's memorial service on 18 March.

"This could only be possible given the time of the day when demand is lowest, and indeed for the short duration. This exercise cannot be executed everyday, and Eskom made an exception," an Eskom representative told Business Insider South Africa at the time.

But these reprieves, like the one implemented on the day of the Zulu monarch's memorial service and to allow Parliament to pass certain Bills, comes at a great cost to the already cash-strapped utility.

Mitigating load shedding through the use of OCTGs costs millions of rands in diesel. Eskom told Business Insider SA that on the day of the Zulu monarch’s memorial, a total of nine OCTGs were brought online to stave off load shedding.

Each OCTG costs R500,000 per hour to generate 150MW of supplementary power. In this way, the four-hour runtime during the memorial cost an additional R18 million.

Using the same OCTG measures to mitigate load shedding on Friday, for a period of five hours, is estimated to have cost an additional R22.5 million.

But while Eskom admits that it relied on "some" emergency reserves – which refers to diesel supplies used to power OCTGs – to power Parliament's session, it noted an "agreement" with industries which further helped conserve energy on Friday.

"The suspension of load shedding has been made possible by large industrial power consumers in South Africa who have agreed to reduce their consumption for this period to support the country," the utility noted in a statement issued on Friday.

The utility further urged all South Africans to reduce their electricity usage "in the national interest" during the parliamentary sitting on Friday.

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