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Eskom: attempting to perform maintenance without flipping the switch

Brian Molefe is optimistic that the power utility can carry out planned maintenance throughout winter and avoid increased loadshedding

In South Africa, the state-owned power utility Eskom, released its Quarterly State of the System Report, highlighting that the company is making steady progress in reducing its maintenance backlog and that in most cases it has been able to perform the requisite plant maintenance without load shedding.

In numerous public notices, the power utility has warned consumers that the power system is expected to remain constrained for at least the next two years.

Eskom’s acting Chief Executive Brian Molefe said in a statement on Wednesday: “The focus of our maintenance drive is to ensure long-term reliability and sustainability of our power generating plants. Since December last year, the availability of Eskom’s plant performance has improved from 65% to 75%.”

He added: “Going forward, we plan to continue with our maintenance programme in an effort to reduce the backlog that has accumulated over the past few years. Most importantly, we plan to execute the maintenance drive without having to implement load shedding.”

Maintenance backlog

In a statement Eskom said that more than 64% of the power utility’s power stations are in their mid-life and require more preventative maintenance in order to improve their performance and ensure their safety.

However, Eskom admits that over the past few years a backlog of maintenance has developed, and the power company has identified it as a priority to reduce the backlog as well as keep up with the maintenance schedule.

Winter load shedding

Eskom will continue with its maintenance schedule throughout the winter period.

Molefe said: “We anticipate to supply 100% of electricity on most days and 96% during peak periods. We will endeavour for 100%.”

Eskom claims that this maintenance is in line with the company’s vision of achieving an 80% plant availability, 10% planned maintenance and 10% unplanned maintenance in the next three years.

The power company added that the adherence to philosophy maintenance (regular scheduled maintenance) is set to limit unplanned maintenance below 7,500MW in summer and below 5,500MW in winter.

While there is expected to be sufficient power supply to meet demand for the majority of the day, Eskom said that in winter the load could increase to 36,000MW particularly over the short sharp evening peak between 17:30 and 18:30.

With rumours of the country reaching a total blackout, Molefe assured that this was almost impossible.

“There is no prospect of a blackout in South Africa; that is virtually non-existent. We will have stage one, stage two and when things are really bad maybe stage three loadshedding but not a total blackout, which represents total system collapse, that is out of the question”, he said.

Energy security

The Ingula pumped-storage scheme
Units 3 and 4 of the Ingula pumped storage facility is expected to come online in Q1 2016. Pic credit: Eskom

To ensure that future energy demand is met, Eskom is currently undertaking a ZAR280 billion ($23 billion) capital expenditure programme over a 5-year period, and building two of Africa’s largest coal-fired power plants, namely Medupi and Kusile.

Eskom claims that since 2001, the power utility has added 32 generating units increasing the number of current units to 121.

Eskom plans to bring online units 3 and 4 of the Ingula pumped storage facility (situated on the border between the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal provinces) between January and March 2016 respectively. In total, over 1,500MW new generating capacity will be added to the national grid by the end of this current financial year.

In the next 5 years, Eskom will add over 17,000MW of new generation capacity to the national grid as well as 9,756km of new transmission lines and 42,470MVA of transmission strengthening. The power utility said that to date over 6,238MW of new capacity has already been added and 5,814km of transmission lines and 29,655MVA have been installed.

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.