Johannesburg – Eskom has assured households and big businesses not to expect load shedding during the early stages of winter, due to accumulation of the much needed power generation during the lockdown.
On Monday, the power utility said that relief came as a result of the lockdown, which resulted in many big businesses – especially mines and similar industries, which consume a lot of electricity – being forced to lower their operations.
Last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa – when he initially announced the 21-day nationwide lockdown – only ordered coal mines which supply coal to Eskom to operate optimally, but the rest of the gold, diamond and iron ore mines, whose employees were not categorised as essential workers, were told to stay at home.
The transport industry was also severely affected, as the government suspended the operations of Gautrain and commuter trains, including passenger trains, which also consume a lot of electricity. Big retailers in the food industry were also forced to close.
A few days after the declaration of the lockdown, Eskom announced a significant drop in the demand for electricity. It also took some generation units off the grid.
At the time, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said they had to shift their focus on carrying out short-term maintenance and other repairs, in their bid to optimise the generations units to meet the rising demand.
As Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, last week, relaxed some of the stringent regulations of the lockdown – including ordering some of big industries, particularly the mines, to return to partial operations – Eskom says the relaxation will not affect them severely.
Mantshantsha said the power utility used the time of the lockdown to conduct critical short-term maintenance on power station infrastructure.
“We have doubled planned maintenance from the pre-lockdown levels of 4200Megawatts (MW) to more than 9000MW currently, which – at some stage during the past three weeks – rose as high as 9 800MW.
“That, together with the lower demand during the lockdown, has had the effect of reducing unplanned breakdowns to be 10000MW,” Mantshantsha said.
He said where there were challenges in conducting the deep, “maintenance of the biggest components of power stations, it was due to the unavailability of the large components that required long lead times to be imported to South Africa and to get the equipment on site.
Despite what appears to be their minimal troubles, Mantshatsha said the power utility was on track with its maintenance and is expecting to continue with the refurbishments until the end of August.
“Even though Eskom expects demand to rise significantly after the lockdown, to more or less the same levels ahead of the lockdown, which will put pressure on the infrastructure during the first few weeks after the lockdown is lifted, we hope to be able to avoid load shedding. There is a risk of Stage 1 load shedding, for a few days during July,” Mantshantsha said.
By Baldwin Ndaba