Eskom has dismissed reports that South Africa might be facing possible power outages, despite numerous warnings about its system being under extreme pressure.
However, the power utility confirmed yesterday that it was struggling to meet rising demand and perform scheduled maintenance at the same time.
Eskom’s warnings came before the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) announces its decision on the proposed 16 percent electricity tariff rises tomorrow.
An increase of 16 percent a year would raise prices to R1.28 a kilowatt-hour by 2017 from 61c/kWh now. The government, unions, civil organisations and businesses have lambasted Eskom’s proposed tariff rise, saying it will cripple the economy.
Yesterday Eskom refused to answer questions from Business Report on whether it had approached any industrial and mining companies to cut back on energy use until its capacity stabilised, and if it was going to introduce load shedding.
Spokeswoman Hilary Joffe would only say that there were no possible power outages and that she did not understand where reports about “load shedding” had originated.
She said if the supply was tight, it did not mean that there would be electricity outages. “It could be tight for months and even for years but it does not mean that there will be load shedding.”
On Monday Eskom said the capacity available to meet the peak demand for that evening was 33 494 megawatts while the demand was forecast at 31 217MW. The maintenance capacity was at 3 302MW.
“The power system is extremely tight at present, particularly during the evening peak hours from 6pm to 9pm,” it said. “We appeal to customers to reduce their electricity usage and to switch off all non-essential appliances over the peak period.”
SABC quoted Joffe as saying that although Eskom was determined not to reach the stage of outages, the risk remained. The status of the power system remained in the red.
“As things stand at the moment, because demand is too high to allow for it, we just don’t have the space to do as much maintenance on a planned basis as we need to be doing. And the result is that power stations’ performance, especially in summer, is not that reliable,” she said.
South Africa has had extremely hot weather, with heat waves in Gauteng, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Eskom had previously said summer was always a challenge, especially in performing regular seasonal maintenance.
In another warning last week, Eskom said: “The performance of the generation fleet has been volatile, reflecting the fact that Eskom does not have enough space to achieve the sustained levels of planned maintenance which are needed to improve the reliability of the power.”
In both updates, Eskom stated that the increased pressure was mainly because of a fault in an electrical switchboard that had tripped at the Koeberg plant. “The reduced supply from Koeberg has added strain on a power system which was already tight because of reduced imports from Cahora Bassa in Mozambique and volatile plant performance.”
Eskom has been battling with one of the transmission lines from Cahora Bassa, which was damaged when the Limpopo River flooded. An additional fault in infrastructure had reduced imports from Mozambique to 420MW.
Solidarity said the only reason Eskom was issuing warnings was because of problems at its Koeberg plant and the Mozambique transmission line. The union said it was simply a coincidence that the power utility had been battling with these problems a week before the Nersa announcement.
Eskom should consider allowing independent producers to sell electricity. “Independent power producers should be given a chance and if they mess up, Eskom can buy them out. Part of the problem is that Eskom remains a monopoly in all this,” the union said.
Lynn McGregor, a senior fellow at Stellenbosch University’s corporate governance unit, said that as much as the timing of this announcement had caused some confusion, it would be good for Eskom to fully brief South Africans on its power shortage plans.
“It would be good for Eskom to explain why this is not being planned into their strategy. If there is going to be a power shortage, then this will look like mismanagement.”