Electricity supply to be ‘increasingly tight’, says minister

2011-08-25 14:00

The electricity supply will become “increasingly tight” until Eskom’s new base-load power stations start to deliver power into the grid at the end of next year, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba has said.

“We know that the system will become increasingly tight until such time that Eskom’s new base-load power stations start to deliver electricity into the grid starting with the first power from Medupi scheduled for the end of 2012,” he said.

Gigaba was speaking at a “state of the system briefing” by Eskom.

“During this period, the role of non-Eskom generators in supplying much needed power into the grid as well as the drive to increase energy efficiency levels in all sectors of the economy will be paramount in ensuring that we have a secure supply of electricity.”

He said that while Eskom had been able to “avert” the electricity blackouts of 2008, it was “no secret” that electricity supply and demand was “delicately balanced”, requiring increased vigilance and a heightened level of operational scrutiny and focus.

“That we are almost through the winter period and the fact that Eskom has been successful in managing a tight system by maintaining a secure and reliable electricity supply during this period of heightened demand, attests to the initiatives which have been put in place to increase system security,” he said.

Gigaba said 600MW of power had been supplied into the national grid over winter by independent power producers and municipal generators.

The recent coal miners’ strike and its potential impact on Eskom’s fuel stocks was “of concern”, but Eskom did have contingency plans in place.

“Coal stockpiles at the power stations dropped from 38 days before the strike to 36 days by the end of the strike, which was thankfully resolved relatively speedily.

“Eskom is busy rebuilding its stockpiles so that it will enter the rainy season with some confidence of fuel adequacy.”

Gigaba said the next challenge facing electricity supply security would be the summer maintenance season for Eskom.

“It is in those months that Eskom must do the necessary planned maintenance to ensure its power stations and power lines can operate reliably throughout the year with maximum availability in winter,” he said.

Gigaba said his department was working with Eskom on “additional interventions” to provide more space for maintenance, but many of those options “come at a cost”.

Increased attention needed to be paid to the supply of electricity at the distribution level and the networks that supplied electricity directly into businesses and homes.

Illegal connections and electricity and cable theft were “exacerbating” the power supply problem by placing additional undue pressure on distribution networks.

“These are issues that government intends treating as serious economic offences and others as economic sabotage so that necessary seriousness is attached by the law-enforcement institutions to their combating,” Gigaba said. 

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