Eskom has said the risk of electricity outages was increasing with the approach of winter, although it would strive to prevent blackouts at "all costs".
Chief executive Brian Dames said this winter would be different from a year ago because the utility had to do maintenance work typically carried out in the summer.
"We have reached a point where we cannot defer planned maintenance on the fleet," Dames told a news briefing today.
The electricity grid in South Africa is operating on razor-thin margins and Eskom is in a race against time to keep power flowing as demand peaks with winter setting in.
Eskom has been walking a tightrope for five years as it brings on long-overdue generation capacity after the system was brought close to a national shutdown in 2008.
The 2008 crisis forced factories, mines and smelters to shut down for days, costing the economy billions in lost output.
Meanwhile, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said Eskom’s 8% electricity tariff hike has “changed the game” for power in South Africa.
“While the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) decision ... is welcomed, the implications of the lower tariffs and revenue approved on Eskom’s operations and overall business sustainability are currently being investigated,” he said at an update on Eskom in Johannesburg today.
“This decision is surely going to have far-reaching implications. It is clear the Nersa decision changes the game significantly.”
He said the regulator’s decision was fair to consumers, but not to Eskom.
On February 28, Nersa announced it had granted Eskom an 8% electricity tariff hike each year for the next five years, in its third multiyear price determination (MYPD3).
The parastatal had applied for a 16% increase in each of the next five years.
The previous multiprice determination, MYPD2, ended on March 31 2013. Both MYPD1 and MYPD2 had spanned three years.
Gigaba said the electricity system could be fragile during winter.
“As we are heading into winter, which is anticipated to be extremely cold, given the recent cold spells, I would like to stress the importance of using electricity sparingly.
“Ordinarily, winter is characterised by high electricity demand. However, this winter is unique in that it is the first time Eskom has planned to execute long-duration maintenance. A partnership to keep the lights on will be even more required than at any other stage before.”
Dames said the planned maintenance for winter would be for 2 000 megawatts.
“This is work we cannot defer for this winter. In the past, we would not have done so much planned work,” he said.
Dames said Eskom needed consumers to help prevent rolling blackouts. But this could happen if a large-scale system shortage, or blackout, was imminent.
“We will not put the country at risk of a blackout ...” Dames said.
“If it came to it, (however), we will dump the load to protect the country.”