Dear Reader: Till smelters freeze over

And so we finally take a closer look at what’s going down at Eskom. You want to know why electricity charges must escalate right away? For starters: in the past we ran a handful of gas turbines for two or three hours a day to meet peak demand. Today we’re rushing to have 50 turbines – and those we’ve got we’re running 24/7. The crunch: it costs 18c a unit to generate electricity from coal; with the rapidly rising cost of diesel, gas-generated electricity already costs 128c a unit – seven times as much! That’s just one detail that didn’t make it into our lead story.

In our story, like a physician, we do rake over a whole range of unhappy developments at Eskom. The power utility is the heart that pumps the life blood of the country, so it’s as well to pay close attention to every possible symptom of disease.

A bit dramatic, you say? Not at all.

Consider this: South Africa’s electricity grid is designed to operate at 50Hz, requiring a constant, delicate balance between the amount of power fed into it by several types of generator across the country, and the amount drawn off it nationwide by a vastly complex network of consumers. If the load on the grid rises above 51Hz or falls below 49Hz – heart attack! – not just your suburb, but the entire national grid will close down.
Restarting the national grid is so complicated it could take weeks, even months, to phase in supply and demand gradually, sector by sector, while maintaining the fine balance at 50Hz. Lose it and you must start over. That’s assuming we still have people with the skills and intimate knowledge of our particular network to do it.

Imagine what happens in the meantime ... when lights don’t come on and sewage, water and petrol pumps stop working ... when trains stop and petrol tanks and diesel generators run dry. (Yes, and the mines flood and the smelters freeze over.)

Our national electricity grid is controlled by an obsolete computer system (bought over 30 years ago from the Swiss), based at a national control centre. This directs half a dozen regional network control centres, which used to be manned by about 400 highly skilled career personnel – as experienced, and scarce, as air traffic controllers. Today, despite special pay packages and an on-site gym, less than half remain – and they keep leaving.

The government’s ill-conceived BEE programme (frequently simply a “deployment” of party hands and the well-connected) has left any number of services at the point of collapse (tryHome Affairs for size), inducing a sense of creeping paralysis; but if it continues at Eskom, the consequence will be quick and catastrophic.

What can one expect from a policy that tells white South Africans they only have a job (and a future) for as long as it takes to replace them with a black, tokenly qualified ANC member? No surprise that qualified whites emigrate or lack motivation, leaving the half-qualified and unmotivated doing a half-baked job. The logic is simple, the insult to all concerned profound.

We don’t need to spend billions (which we don’t have) in a state of chaotic panic on vast new nuclear power stations; we need to clean out the well-connected duds at Megawatt Park and replace them with competent managers, no matter

their race. Then we need to clean up the government. (The lights are about to go out, and we’re still taking delivery of submarines! Ordered by the man who says there’s no crisis in Zimbabwe.)

As a matter of policy we must offer all South Africans a future. It’s not a question of political disposition, it’s a question of survival. By now, all South Africans should know that. Those who don’t, must have it explained – urgently.
The Editor

Share this article:

Reader's comments

Like to add your own comment ? Please click here to subscribe - OR -
Submitted by : Paul Card of Palm Court on 2008-05-12 22:30:13
In reply to anonymous. I would like to understand how you arrive @ R4.50 / kWh for the OCGT units ?

Fuel costs are roughly R 1.62 / kWh, where does the other R 2.88 come from ? The staffing is substantially less @ the OCGT units.

If you work on the unit at Ankerlig (Atlantis) working for 14Hours a day, producing 600MW (588MW unit) that would be :

600 * 1000 (to get kW) *2.88*14 = R 24 Million per day !!!!!!
Submitted by : Peter Raines on 2008-05-06 13:39:26
Dear Editor,

Your source of information regarding the 30 year old Swiss computer controlling the network has let you down. This system has recently been upgraded and commissioned by a French owned company. In fact you could invite yourself to have a guided tour, you may even be impressed.

Furthermore it does not cost 18c/kWh to generate from coal. That is an Eskom ploy to prevent alternate generation sources from competing. It costs way more if accounted for correctly.

The new gas turbine peakers at Mossel Bay and Atlantis cost R4-50 / kWh, capital costs and running costs included. Re-calculate this figure monthly to allow for the OPEC cartel's rising "costs" to which our government and Sasol are willing partners.


While every reasonable effort is taken to ensure the accuracy and soundness of the contents of this publication, neither the authors nor the publishers of this website bear any responsibility for the consequences of any actions based on the information contained therein.