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Apr 03, 2009

Koeberg highlights SA’s continued power vulnerability, despite demand slowdown

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The incident at Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station on Thursday, which saw the Unit 2 trip at a time when Unit 1 was already shut for refuelling and maintenance, once again raises the spectre of power disruptions in the Western Cape.

Its timing ahead of winter was particularly concerning, but was doubly unfortunate for CEO Jacob Maroga, who only a day earlier indicated that he did not foresee blackouts for the next 24 months.

In fact, speaking at the Gordon Institute of Business Science on Wednesday night, Maroga gave an indication that the country was not facing any imminent load-shedding events, not least as a result of the falloff in demand arising from the economic slowdown.

Maroga said that coal stockpiles had been restored and that the performance of its power stations, particularly with regard to unplanned outages, had also improved.

“We have asked society to reduce demand . . . and with the global economic slowdown, that has happened naturally.

“So, we have more breathing space,” he asserted.

By contrast, Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica warned again on Thursday that South Africa was continuing to suffer from a perilously low electricity reserve margin, and reiterated government’s call for power savings of 10%.

The Minister acknowledged that there had been few recent disruptions, but said that this should not be taken as a sign that the crisis had passed. Further, with winter approaching, saving levels of only 0,4% were insufficient.

Urgent steps would still be required to stabilise the system, with Sonjica noting that South Africa was far off a comfortable reserve margin of between 17% and 20%.

Following the Koeberg incident, details around which are still sketchy, Eskom gave an assurance that the nuclear reactor side of Unit 2 had not been affected.

The utility added that the supply of electricity to the Cape had not been affected, with the region being supplied from other power stations, including the two new open-cycle gas-turbine power stations in Atlantis and Mossel Bay.

Output from these hugely expensive 'peaking plants' had been doubled, while Eskom was also using power generated from stations in the hinterland to supplement supply.

“The risk of power-supply interruptions to the Cape will, however, increase should any of the available generation in the Cape and/or transmission plants experience faults.

“In this instance, Eskom will make a call to the public, the private sector and the utilities in the Cape to heighten their measures to conserve electricity,” the utility said in a statement, while appealing to all South Africans to conserve electricity during the period.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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