Covid-19 is posing a serious threat to ailing power producer Eskom as it struggles to catch up with daily technical breakdowns at its power stations.
Energy expert Chris Yelland said data he had received from the utility showed that South Africa was using lower than projected electricity this winter because of the lockdown but despite this, Eskom was not able to conduct the necessary deep maintenance its infrastructure was long overdue for. This was because the parts and expertise needed to do this was overseas and could not be imported any time soon.
Travel restrictions globally have restricted various industrial activities in the public and private sector in South Africa, including energy, mining and car manufacturing. The return to load shedding last week raises questions about the supposed plan by Eskom to use the three-month hard lockdown this year to conduct extra maintenance while the national demand for power was at its lowest.
Alas, the utility was not ready for the upsurge in demand as the country slowly began to open up last month. At least three different generation units experienced faults in the space of two days last week, leading to fresh bouts of power cuts. According to Eskom data, while daily demand is currently higher than during the Level 5 lockdown, South Africa is currently using power at lower rates than projected at the beginning of the year for this winter.
It was thus concerning, said Yelland, that despite this, Eskom was unable to provide enough electricity. Eskom has to date recorded that the residual demand during Level 3 lockdown so far has been 1 592MW lower than what was projected. Demand was even lower during Levels 4 and 5 of the lockdown, when the residual demand was respectively 3 314MW and 5 679MW lower than projected.
But demand for electricity has nevertheless increased over the past week. Last Sunday, peak residual demand was 743MW higher than seven days prior. Overall energy demand on Sunday was 17 567MW higher than seven days prior. But these figures were still lower than what Eskom projected in the beginning of the year.
Yesterday morning, the average demand was 2 721MW lower than what was forecast. Meanwhile, energy industry expert Ted Blom warned that more trouble could knock at Eskom’s door, this time with transmission and distribution infrastructure.
“The whole fleet has unravelled. They have a big problem because they committed to taking 2 000MW offline as from 1 July for nine months to do a full rebuild. I am expecting plenty more action before this winter is over – especially in the transmission and distribution side with more transformers blowing up or exploding,” said Blom.
Despite the power utility’s “best efforts” to return its ageing generation units to operation following breakdowns last week, Eskom initiated Stage 2 load shedding again on Monday and with the likelihood of more planned power cuts all week as temperatures are expected to drop to icy lows.
The return of one unit at the Kriel power station added 475MW to the grid, but the return of a generation unit each at Tutuka and Kriel power stations was delayed over the weekend, contributing to the supply constraints.