Eskom claims it will ramp-up maintenance of its neglected generation units in the next seven months to sustain demand. Photo: EPA

JOHANNESBURG – Struggling power utility Eskom promised to ramp-up the maintenance of its neglected generation units in the next seven months to ensure that the country had enough power to sustain its economic demands.

Eskom said yesterday that the process would involve stripping away an average of 5 500 megawatt (MW), as more generating units are put out of service in a bid to spruce up its ageing critical infrastructure. 

The utility said while it had not implemented load shedding in the second quarter its generational capacity was still weak.

Chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said customer usage generally changed from peak usage during winter to a reduced but sustained flat demand all day in summer.

Oberholzer said Eskom would keep unplanned plant breakdowns at a minimum and reduce emissions in order to safeguard against load shedding in the summer. 

He said the grid remained tight and vulnerable due to increased maintenance and was likely to impact some of the power stations.

“What we plan to do is to keep our unplanned maintenance, the breakdowns, to below 9 500 megawatts,” Oberholzer said. “An increased usage of diesel and power storage at our plants may cause a problem if we are forced to use them, but what is important is we rely on customers to use electricity sparingly.”

Yesterday, the country benefited from uninterrupted power supply with the economy rebounding to a 3.1 percent growth in the second quarter from the significantly worse-than-expected performance in the first quarter.

The rapid increase in electricity usage and supply capacity during winter demand has previously forced Eskom to halt scheduled maintenance for long-term plant health, resulting in plant breakdowns and the implementation of load shedding.

Eskom said it wanted to average a 30 000MW demand during the maintenance. 

The utility produces approximately 90 percent of its electricity with a generation's total installed capacity of more than 44 000MW from thermal power stations.

It managed to go through winter without any power cuts against its projected 26 possible of Stage 1 load shedding. It said it spent R1.4 billion on diesel in the year to date from the budgeted R5.4 billion.

The maintenance plan, unveiled at the status of the system briefing yesterday, balances the need for increased maintenance against the risk of unreliable plant performance.

Eskom said it had an average energy availability factor of 70.4 percent by the end of August, with coal stockpiles recovering from 20 coal stock days to remain at healthy levels of 50 days, excluding Medupi and Kusile.

It said all six Medupi units had now been connected to the grid.

Acting chief executive and chairperson Jabu Mabuza said the utility had to strike the right balance between plant maintenance and keeping the lights on.