Eskom power station. Picture: REUTERS
Eskom power station. Picture: REUTERS

Eskom is hoping that there will be no load-shedding during the nationwide lockdown, but can’t guarantee anything despite power demand being expected to drop during the next 21 days.

The lockdown, aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, will be effective as of midnight on Thursday until April 16. South Africans will only be able to leave their homes under strictly controlled circumstances and only businesses providing essential services will continue to operate.

“At this point we do not have any plans to implement load-shedding,” Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said.

“We do, of course, expect that demand will drop as big industry shuts down, that in its very nature will mean we will have increased capacity to supply electricity,” he said.

However, he cautioned that it was impossible to say what might happen as Eskom’s plants are unreliable.

“We think we will be able to get through with the capacity that we have, helped by the reducing demand. We can’t guarantee it though.”

At a media briefing on Wednesday, minister of mineral resources and energy Gwede Mantashe said it was unlikely there would be load-shedding.

In early January, Eskom implemented load-shedding despite promises by itself and President Cyril Ramaphosa that there would be no rotational power cuts over the festive season. Then Eskom chair, Jabu Mabuza, stepped down over the debacle.

Energy analyst and the MD of EE Business Intelligence. Chris Yelland, said energy consumption had dropped off significantly in countries such as Italy, which has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is unlikely, however, to be as significant in SA, which is a highly energy intensive country, he said.

“Statistically, the probability of load-shedding should decrease [during SA’s lockdown]. But if there is a series of breakdowns at Eskom, as has happened in the past, it’s not inconceivable,” Yelland said.

Martin Kingston, vice-president of Business Unity SA, said business is in discussion with government at an individual, sectoral and business-wide level to ensure that essential services have the necessary power, although subject to the fact that no absolute guarantees can be made about load-shedding

Although schools were shut last week and many employees have already been working from home, there has been no significant decrease in power demand as yet.

On Tuesday evening Eskom said unplanned outages or breakdowns were at 11,519MW and planned maintenance outages are at 3,866MW. The system’s nominal generating capacity is 44,000MW while average demand has been about 30,000MW, until now.

On Wednesday morning, Mantshantsha said Eskom had been able to take some of its emergency diesel unit’s offline as of 4am, but continued to make use of hydro pumped storage reserves.  

If the lockdown does alleviate demand on the national grid, it does not necessarily mean Eskom can ramp up maintenance either.

“What this will mostly do is spare us the need to use diesel to generate electricity,” said Mantshantsha. “We will then do what we can, within the limitations, to do maintenance.”

Although Eskom has the resources it requires within the country to perform planned maintenance, which is expected to continue as scheduled, the limitations include the possible need for specialists, machinery and other supplies to be sourced from countries, which are banned from landing in SA.

Even so, Mantshantsha said Eskom will be able to generate power and perform its normal business on a daily basis during lockdown. “Maintenance will continue, as planned, we don’t foresee any problems there,” he said.

Should diesel reserves be required, Mantshantsha said Eskom was comfortable that it had what it needs in terms of supply and was comfortable its diesel suppliers would be able to move about and get the product to where it is needed as Eskom will issue permits to its suppliers.


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