‘Switch off to prevent winter outages’

23 April 2013

Eskom has called on South Africans to partner with it to prevent power outages as the state company prepares to tackle long-deferred maintenance this winter in order to protect the country’s longer-term electricity supply.

Addressing the media in Pretoria on Monday, Eskom CEO Brian Dames said that higher levels of planned maintenance were urgently required to ensure that the country’s ageing fleet of power stations could perform more reliably on a sustained basis.

This meant that the country’s power system would be “very tight” over the next few months, Dames said, particularly during the evening peak from 5pm to 9pm when people get home from work and switch on lights, heaters, cookers and other electrical appliances.

“This winter is different,” Dames said. “We cannot and will not defer essential maintenance work. We are taking action to ensure that our power stations can improve and sustain their performance, so that they can meet South Africa’s long-term need for a secure supply of electricity.

“We have kept the lights on for the past five years and we remain committed to keeping the lights on. But as Eskom we cannot do it alone,” Dames said, urging South Africans to “partner with us” by switching off geysers, pool pumps, non-essential lighting and all other non-essential appliances during the evening peak from 5pm to 9pm.

South Africa has two new coal-fired power stations – Medupi in Limpopo province and Kusile in Mpumalanga – due to come on line in 2014 and 2017 respectively.

In the meantime, however, almost two-thirds of Eskom’s power stations are past the mid-point of their expected operating lives and therefore require higher levels of planned maintenance work – something the company has found difficult to do while meeting demand this year.

Imports from Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa power station were reduced by 900 MW because of flood damage to a transmission line in February, Dames noted. The line was finally returned to service on Monday.

The unplanned outage of unit 1 of Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station in Cape Town reduced capacity by a further 900 MW, Dames added, while the performance of Eskom’s other power stations had been “extremely volatile”, further constraining capacity. Koeberg’s unit 1 was expected to come back on line this week.

Continuing to meet demand by deferring essential maintenance was unsustainable, Dames said, and Eskom was now implementing a five-year plan that would ensure a reliable electricity supply in the longer term.

The plan requires that a 10% average planned maintenance ratio is sustained over the next five years.

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, also addressing Monday’s media briefing, said that Eskom had taken a number of steps to help it balance supply and demand this winter.

Approximately 2 000 MW of capacity had been signed up from independent power producers and municipalities; Eskom’s demand management programme had resulted in savings of more than 3 500 MW; and coal handling and coal quality had been improved, with coal-related production losses showing an improving trend.

Nonetheless, the upcoming winter maintenance meant that the country needed more than ever before “a partnership in keeping the lights on … A significant behavioural change is required by everyone in the country,” Gigaba said.

“No effort is insignificant in this regard – every little bit helps.”

SAinfo reporter