The explosion that had caused extensive damage to the Medupi power station’s unit 4 generator on Sunday, may lead to load shedding from now until Christmas, even beyond the six provinces already experiencing load reduction.
This is the view of energy expert and mining consultant Ted Blom, who said in an interview with Food For Mzansi that townships in these provinces are bearing the “punishment” of Eskom. The power utility currently conducts morning-peak load reduction in Limpopo, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Free State and Mpumalanga.
According to Blom, everybody – including farmers – will suffer from the power outages.
“Everybody suffers when there is load shedding and certainly it will affect the farmers’ schedules. It can also affect farmer produce because they won’t be able to cool their produce down.”
As an example he explained that where chickens are slaughtered in an abattoir and kept before transportation, the temperatures of those abattoirs need to be reduced quite drastically before the chickens go into the trucks.
“That is crucial because they start slaughtering by 03:00 to 05:00 in the morning and those trucks need to leave at 07:00 in the morning. So, if there is load shedding in the morning it really inconveniences the chicken farmers terribly,” he explains.
Blom says that dairy farmers will also be negatively impacted by load reduction because they need electricity to pasteurise their milk before it can reach the consumer.
Blom foresees that the Medupi explosion may also cause power cuts across the country in future.
“Over the last week Eskom has had 30 gigawatts of generated capacity and the highest usage has been about 31,5 gigawatts. On paper they have roughly 3 odd gigawatts of reserve capacity. With this unit having gone down, the notion is that they will have less electricity. As they go into the summer season, where they have to accelerate maintenance, I certainly foresee that there is a good possibility of having loadshedding between now and the end of the year.”
Kempen Nel, a farmer from Riet River in the Free State near Jacobsdal and member of the Free State Agriculture (FSA) Board, says further load shedding will bring a difficult period for farmers because many of them depend on irrigation systems to water their crops.
“We have water that is pumped into a canal system. That canal system, especially here at Riet River where I am, is coming from Vanderkloof Dam and it is transported to Riet River in an 84km canal. It is then distributed into smaller canals for about 114km to 140km to specific farmers who pay for that water. So, if the farmers can’t use that water because of irrigation issues, that water is wasted, and they can’t spray it on their crops,” he explains.
Chris Schutte, the director of SONFIN, an independent company that specialises in structuring green power plants for farmers across the country, says that farmers – especially those who use irrigation systems – can’t afford load shedding right now because they have just planted new crops. “The impact would be huge.”
He says it would be advisable for farmers to get alternative power supply. “However, not all can afford it.”
Schutte explains that what they are doing for mega farmers is building solar plants that run alongside Eskom power. They do this because it is more economically viable to remain connected to the Eskom grid than it is to run independently – the batteries to go off the grid are extremely expensive.
“Battery backup is a huge problem for big farmers and that’s why you need a grid that ties to the Eskom grid so it can run parallel to Eskom. Your capital outlay is not that big and your financial investment makes sense at the end of the day.”
Schutte says that these solar plants will generate roughly 70% of the farmers’ electricity usage and and that they will buy the other 30% from Eskom. However, this comes with its own challenges because if the solar power is connected to the Eskom grid and Eskom conducts load shedding, that grid-tie system will be shut off as well.