On Wednesday, Eskom said it “does not expect to implement load shedding during the Covid-19 national lockdown, but the possibility that load shedding may be implemented remains”. As at Wednesday afternoon, breakdowns totalled 12 175MW, while planned maintenance was at 4 256MW.
The utility has steadily reduced the amount of planned maintenance over the past ten days – something not originally planned for. This has helped stabilise the system over this period, despite breakdowns remaining stubbornly high.
The major factor which will practically ensure zero load shedding over the next 21 days is the fact that major industry including the mining sector will shut down.
The demand picture until this past weekend remained relatively unchanged from normal as the measures put in place by government until the announcement of the 21-day lockdown had not curtailed industry.
Historical data from the Christmas Day to New Year’s Day period is instructive. Mines and industry are mostly shut for this week. During this time, demand plateaus at 26 000MW, from the 31 000MW currently (last week).
This means that breakdowns could spike to levels in excess of those which necessitated Stage 6 load shedding in December (15 000MW) and the lights will remain on over the next 21 days.
Eskom now has an additional 5 000MW cushion (or ‘reserve margin’). This also means it won’t have to resort to emergency generation (open cycle gas turbines and pumped storage schemes) to meet peak demand when breakdowns spike.
The utility says “All Eskom activities (i.e. generation, transmission and distribution of power) are regarded as ‘essential services’ in terms of Labour Relations Act. Eskom has made a determination of those employees in the generation, transmission and distribution activities that are critical for the continuity of electricity supply and apply for their exemption from 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 through the lockdown”.
Some have questioned whether Eskom could not use this opportunity of depressed demand to catch up on maintenance of its generation plant. It could, arguably, ramp up planned maintenance from the 5000MW level to 7000MW and still have an adequate cushion to prevent load shedding.
However, this would stand in direct contradiction to the point of the lockdown. Says the utility: “Eskom endeavours to minimise the number of staff and contractors at all sites in line with the lockdown declaration. Thus, only staff essential for the sustainable operation of the plant will be on site.
“Increasing maintenance during this period will mean more people on each site which will be contrary to only having critical staff on each site to limit exposure risk.”
Until the lockdown was announced, Eskom had planned maintenance of up to 5643MW over the next three weeks. Given the above statement, this is now not guaranteed. The utility’s weekly system status reports will provide some insight into the levels of maintenance it will have been able to achieve during the lockdown.
Still, it remains completely unclear and unpredictable how the country will emerge from the lockdown. For now, the theory is that it will be over on Friday, April 17, allowing industry and mining to restart over the weekend. But, certain areas or regions where Covid-19 is not yet under control may yet operate under lockdown conditions. These are unknowns.
If the lockdown ends when it is scheduled to, electricity demand will ramp up towards Monday, April 20.
Eskom’s current forecast suggests that the risks of load shedding in the weeks following the lockdown are relatively low. The real concern comes in May and June where it is already forecasting to not be able to meet demand.
It’s likely to be a long winter.
Source: Eskom weekly supply report – Week 12