150711. Sunset in Crownmines, Johannesburg. The picture can be used for Eskom energy supply crisis. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - Eskom would cut back plans to repair plants during winter to ensure the country had enough electricity as the colder months approached, Energy Minister Ben Martins announced yesterday.

“What we seek to do is to obviate the challenge we had a couple of weeks ago,” Martins said. “We are assuring that as winter approaches, we will not have blackouts; we are ensuring that the maintenance that Eskom has to carry out will be reduced as much as possible over winter.”

In its system status bulletin later yesterday, Eskom said it was continuing with its planned maintenance schedule but it was winding it down to prepare for winter.

Eskom’s generation sustainability strategy requires the power utility to use 80 percent of its power station fleet for generation and leave 10 percent for planned maintenance and another 10 percent for unplanned outages.

But due to a maintenance backlog, the utility was forced to shut down more units for maintenance, leaving it with less than 80 percent capacity when unplanned outages occurred. For instance, its power plant availability averaged 78.4 percent in the six months to September last year as a result of an increase in unplanned unavailability.

During that period, Eskom had taken down 2 000 megawatts of its generating capacity for maintenance as it carried out unprecedented levels of winter maintenance.

Yesterday, Eskom said its current planned maintenance stood at 4 552MW as the company did most maintenance in summer. Unplanned outages stood at 5 360MW.

Eskom’s power station fleet has a capacity to generate 43 000MW, but its available capacity has stayed around 33 000MW due to outages.

In its interim integrated report for 2013/14, Eskom said its strategy to avert load shedding since 2008 had resulted in the deterioration of its power plants’ health and environmental performance. It said generating units were kept in operation despite having known defects. The power utility’s plants’ unplanned capability loss factor percentage stood at 11.53 percent in September.

Almost two-thirds of Eskom’s power stations are past their mid-lives and the company said they therefore needed higher levels of planned maintenance, such as upgrades.

Eskom’s gross expenditure on power station maintenance before capitalisation in the six months to September was R6.4 billion. This was almost double the R3.8bn spent in the 2012 interim period and it was before the inclusion of employee benefit costs.

Last night, Eskom had 32 985MW of available capacity, including open-cycle gas turbines, while electricity demand was forecast at 32 128MW. It forecast that peak demand for the rest of this week would not exceed 32 221MW. - Business Report