Eskom: Save electricity or be left in the dark

Continued discipline with electricity use could stave off the re-introduction of rostered power black outs, metros and Eskom said as cold winds and snow dragged temperatures down to the single digit on Thursday.

“People should be disciplined, they should be energy conscious,” said Johannesburg’s City Power spokesperson Louis Pieterse, responding to concern that the posting of a “load shedding” schedule on the city’s website meant that the next step was the dreaded “rolling blackouts”.

“Basically we update the schedule every year … but that does not imply that updating means load shedding,” he said.

“Load shedding” became a euphemism for rostered and rotated power cuts in 2007 and 2008 when Eskom faced critical infrastructure and coal supply problems. Most cuts lasted four hours at a time and, disruptions associated with this cost the economy an estimated R50 billion, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa said in September 2008.

Electricity trading between South Africa and its neighbours was also affected as an Eskom converter station was refurbished in Cahora Bassa, Mozambique, and there was system unavailability in Zambia.

A City of Cape Town media spokesperson said on Thursday the city too had publicised a load shedding roster and had run an advertising campaign to inform consumers of their need to reduce consumption by at least the 10% minimum saving that Eskom has advocated.

“About a month ago ahead of winter, we tried to encourage people to switch to solar water heaters and do all the things they can do to save electricity. It is based on saving money for themselves and for reducing the amount of electricity used,” said Charles Cooper.

The campaign was also to remind people of the 25% power increase on July 1.

But Capetonians still needed to save more electricity as usage reduction targets they had hoped to reach were not being achieved yet.

Kupido Baron, spokesperson for the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, said: “People mustn’t worry, we don’t have any notification [from Eskom] as yet.

“But, the less people use, the better for all of us, because it does affect the infrastructure.”

The metro still had last year’s schedule online and would discuss the likelihood of that one being valid for load shedding if the need arose.

Chamber of Mines spokesperson Jabu Maphalala said the industry had signed an agreement committing itself to reducing consumption by 10%, and the chamber had adjusted to this.

“There is no information to say that there will be problems with production,” he said.

‘Keep the lights on’
Meanwhile, Pieterse laughed at the suggestion that posting a schedule for possible implementation was delayed until after last week’s local government election.

“Ag no, that’s not true,” he said.

In April, Eskom chief executive Brian Dames said the company managed to “keep the lights on” during the first quarter of 2011 due to the cooperation of 49-million South Africans and this needed to continue as demand would remain tight over the next five years and new power station capacity came online.

The winter peak demand is expected to reach 37 500 MW in July this year, compared with last year’s peak of 36 970.

The evening peaks so far have hovered around 35 000 MW with Thursday’s usage expected to touch the 36 000MW mark, Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe said.

The situation had changed since the 2007/2008 crisis.

Eskom had changed leadership, had gone from having only enough coal for 12 days’ electricity generation to around 40, and independent power producers Sasol and Sappi had added 373 MW of power to available resources.

Eskom had reached agreements for supplies from the Rooiwal and Kelvin stations, most of the utility’s around 140 biggest companies in the industrial and mining sectors had signed up to a voluntary energy conservation programme, with some even increasing output while saving power.

“On that customer base, there has been a saving of five percent compared to the 2007 baseline,” she said.

“There’s been some really good work done.”

Eskom had gas turbines on standby to run as an emergency reserve when necessary and was working more closely with its 500 largest customers so that it can forecast and manage demand.

Energy saving measures are also expected to be applied by the 11 other members of the Southern African Power Pool, which trades electricity, when required.

Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are among the pool’s members which serve around 230-million people.

Last year 60 000 applications were received for the installation of solar water geysers in South Africa, and Eskom’s energy efficient lighting programme has achieved results.

Regarding load shedding, Joffe said: “We are determined to avoid that. We are managing the system very carefully but can’t do it alone, we do need energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, for those without electricity supplies, emergency services were warning people living in shacks or in other unconnected areas to be careful with their paraffin stoves, heaters and braziers to avoid their homes catching fire. — Sapa

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