State-owned electricity producer Eskom has reported that demand dropped by more than 6 000 MW on the afternoon of March 26 as businesses shut in anticipation of the start of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
The utility also indicated that a further reduction in demand was anticipated for the 21-day period and that it did not, therefore, expect to implement load-shedding during the lockdown.
The message was in line with Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s statement of March 25, in which he indicated that the risk of load-shedding would be low during the lockdown, owing to the fall in demand from energy intensive firms.
Mantashe said mining operations in South Africa would be “scaled down significantly” and that, while refineries and smelters that could not easily be switched off would be allowed to operate, they would continue at reduced levels, using stockpiled ores.
He also stressed that supply of coal to Eskom would continue as an essential service, but that production rates could be aligned with falling demand.
To protect the integrity of the system during the lockdown, Eskom said it had started taking some generation units off the grid.
“These units are available to return to service at short notice should the need arise,” the utility said in a statement.
Eskom would, however, postpone the implementation of “philosophy maintenance” at its breakdown-prone coal plants for the duration of the lockdown to keep the number of workers on site to a minimum.
“We have instead shifted the focus to carrying out short-term maintenance and other repairs in order to optimise the generation units to meet the rising demand after the lockdown.”
The move means that Eskom would not be in a position to use the period of low demand to claw back much needed maintenance, which might have reduced the risk of load-shedding once demand normalised.
At the start of 2020, the utility announced that load-shedding would remain a risk for at least 18 months as it sought to implement a maintenance regime at the coal plants that did not deviate from prescribed service schedules.
As of March 26, unplanned outages or breakdowns stood at 9 116 MW, while planned maintenance outages were 5 279 MW.
Eskom said in a statement ahead of the lockdown that, as an essential and critical services supplier, some of its personnel had been exempted from the provisions of the lockdown.
“As such, we do not expect any impediments to the generation and supply of electricity during this period. Our suppliers, particularly the coal mines, logistics suppliers and those supplying the parts and maintenance services at our power stations, will be able to operate during the lockdown.”