Lockdown | Eskom lost a maintenance opportunity, utility admits

While Eskom is on track to meet its immediate maintenance needs, the drop in electricity demand that came with the lockdown has been a lost opportunity for the utility to get to grips with its long-term maintenance needs, spokesperson Sikhonathi Mantshantsha told Fin24 on Wednesday.

Last week Eskom told South Africans, in its last power update, that it would not need to implement load shedding during the 21-day lockdown, thanks to a fall in the demand for electricity that came with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s instruction for South Africans to stay at home.

Ramaphosa declared the lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, which has claimed five lives in South Africa and had risen to 1 353 cases as of Tuesday. The lockdown’s stipulation that the majority of the population is bound to weigh on the economy, which recently entered a fresh technical recession.

Mantshantsha told Fin24 that Eskom had not been doing any public power updates as the national power system was experiencing a 7500 MW average drop in demand and Eskom managed to reduce unplanned breakages to just under 9 500 MW.

'Lost opportunity'

"We have doubled planned maintenance. This is the maintenance that can be done immediately. We doubled it to over 9 000 MW of planned maintenance because demand has dropped enough for us to conduct this maintenance," said Mantshantsha.

However, Mantshantsha said long-term maintenance would not be an option during the lockdown period, as to plan this kind of maintenance often takes months.

"There are parts of the station that need to be ordered and that would take nine months to get in. What we are not able to do is the long-term planned maintenance where we would have to bring in equipment and items from the manufacturers in the United States and Asia.

"It is a lost opportunity. This is an emergency. Nobody knew we would have the gap for this equipment to arrive. Long-term maintenance is not something you can do at a snap of a finger and it’s there," said Mantshantsha.

Mantshantsha said average overseas orders for equipment would need three months of planning, and specialists from companies supplying such would need to be brought in to do repairs.

"For now, we are taking advantage of the situation by doing all the maintenance that can be done and ensuring capacity using local specialists and suppliers," he said.

Mantshantsha said nobody could have expected by the end of last year that demand would fall as much as it has lately. Conversely, he said, no one could have expected that all international travel to SA would be prohibited either.
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