In a bid to head off threatened power cuts Eskom is pushing for a mandatory power conservation programme that would force particularly heavy consumers to save power.
This week the energy utility asked a joint sitting of Parliament’s committees on energy and public enterprises to support its call for a mandatory power conservation scheme for its 500 largest consumers.
These users account for between 50% and 60% of the total electricity demand and include the country’s metropolitan councils, the mining industry and BHP Billiton’s aluminium smelters.
Eskom’s plea preceded the Cabinet’s announcement on Thursday that it had gazetted a final version of the integrated resource plan. It is expected that IRP 2010, which maps out South Africa’s energy future in the coming 20 years, will be gazetted on April 1. In its statement the Cabinet said the IRP would “place significant emphasis on the intensification of our energy efficiency strategy”.
Eskom’s Kannan Lakmeeharan said a mandatory scheme was envisaged as one of the “safety nets” which the utility wanted to use in the event of severe strain on the electricity grid.
Power conservation for industry
A power conservation programme was mooted for industry following the blackouts of 2008, when large users reduced their energy consumption by 10% until the crisis receded.
But large industrial consumers have been reluctant until now to agree to any form of mandatory power conservation programme, especially one that involves the introduction of punitive tariffs.
Instead, 140 of Eskom’s largest customers have taken voluntary steps to save energy. They include operations such as Anglo Gold Ashanti, which has reduced its energy consumption by 10%.
Lakmeeharan said the proposal would involve agreed baseline targets against which companies could measure their energy savings. Companies would also be required to give a seven-year forecast of their demand.
A mandatory scheme could be activated without punitive measures, Lakmeeharan said. But it would be difficult to enforce, as Eskom does not have the power to do so. For this reason, it has encouraged voluntary conservation measures.
Heavy users want assurances
Mike Rossouw, chairperson of the Energy Intensive Users Group, which represents some of the biggest energy users, said heavy consumers accepted the need for, and would participate in, a power conservation scheme — but only if it was framed as a safety net intended for emergencies.
Rossouw said the heavy users wanted assurances that the scheme would be implemented only once all other mitigation steps
had been exhausted.
In addition to the savings needed from domestic consumers these steps included Eskom meeting its own power savings targets, increasing the reliability of its current plants and the speedy introduction by it and the government of independent power producers to the system.
“These are measures that don’t cost the economy money and collectively they can close the gap,” said Rossouw. “But they require a concerted effort by all.”
In line with the need to introduce private players into the electricity market, the Cabinet said a Bill for the creation of an independent systems and market operator would be introduced in Parliament. What form this will take and how it will be phased in remains unclear.