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Johannesburg - Switch off. This is the message Eskom is sending to South Africans, urging them to cut their electricity usage by 10 percent because demand is threatening to outstrip supply - and it’s not yet winter.
Over the past few weeks, the parastatal has been besieged by problems - including an unprotected strike at one of its major coal suppliers, Exxaro in Mpumalanga - that have put the national grid under pressure.
This, coupled with the amount of energy available to meet demand being low, could signal the possibility of winter load shedding.
In addition, Koeberg Unit 1 tripped two weeks ago and has had to undergo maintenance, and this has increased pressure on the grid.
Another contributing factor is damage caused by recent floods to a transmission line from Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique.
Eskom denied that load shedding was imminent despite its reserve margin sitting at 3.2 percent on Monday and 2.1 percent on Tuesday. Eskom’s reserve target was between 10 and 20 percent.
According to Business Day, half of this reserved capacity is being lost on unplanned outages and the rest to maintenance.
Eskom conducted a simulated load-shedding exercise this week.
But the parastatal said this was done as “part of its obligations in terms of the grid code, and as a prudent operator, Eskom conducts regular readiness exercises to ensure that its own national and regional control centres, and those of the municipalities, are prepared for emergencies should these arise”.
It added: “Eskom conducted its last national load-shedding readiness exercise in May 2012. It is conducting a more limited readiness exercise, with the control centres of participating metros and municipalities, to check the preparedness of the control centres.
But it warned: “We urge all South Africans to partner with us to keep the lights on and to use electricity sparingly, particularly during the evening peak period between 6pm and 9pm.”
The Star reported this month that Eskom’s power supply was being squeezed so tight and the utility’s options of getting more capacity was so limited that there were fears of a repeat of the mass load shedding of 2008.
Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe would not say if load shedding was on the cards for this winter, saying Eskom was doing everything possible to keep energy flowing, including the buybacks from business and urging energy-saving measures in households, such as timer devices on geysers.
“It is our mandate to keep the lights on, and we are trying, but nobody said we can do this alone… we need help,” said Joffe.
The City of Joburg has made contingency plans for electricity and stated recently that its load-shedding days were over.
City Power has reinstated diesel and gas turbines, activated thousands of geyser ripple controls, obtained additional reserves from the Kelvin power station upgrade, issued thousands of fluorescent lights and started using solar power for traffic lights and public lighting.
Eskom is looking to Medupi to ease the pressure on the grid in the future. The parastatal says it is committed to ensuring that power flows from the first Medupi unit will start in December.
Replying to a question during the recent public hearings into Eskom’s third multi-year price determination application, Eskom said the commercial operation of Medupi Unit 6 - the first unit - might only start on February 28.
But it stressed that it was still targeting December for first power.
Eskom is also being plagued by high debt owed to it by municipalities.
About 40 percent of Eskom’s total sales are to municipalities.
Tips to save on your electricity bill:
* If you’re not using an appliance, switch it off and pull out the plug.
* A geyser uses 39 percent of all household electricity; switch it off to save electricity and money.
* Insulate geysers and water pipes as this will help the water to stay hot for longer. Reduce the temperature setting for your geyser’s thermostat to 60ºC, and shower instead of having a bath. Energy- and water-saving shower heads use less water and electricity.
* Use energy-saving globes instead of incandescent bulbs.
* Don’t leave televisions, DVD players and other electrical equipment in standby mode - rather switch them off completely.
* The same can be said for plug points and adaptors that hold cellphone chargers or bedside lights.
* To save money in your kitchen, close fridge doors as quickly as possible when taking items out - do not leave the fridge door open for longer than necessary.
* Keep room temperatures between 18ºC and 22ºC. Wear warm clothes and use hot-water bottles instead of using heaters to warmyour house.
* Reduce your pool pump’s operating time. Reset the pool pump timer to activate only for long enough to keep the pool clean.