Eskom and the public enterprises ministry are monitoring the protest which is mainly focused around Mpumalanga.
“Coal prices are pivotal in electricity prices going forward,” warned Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba at Eskom’s state of the system briefing on Friday. “Mines need to resolve the workers’ concern as a matter of urgency.”
Eskom chief executive Brian Dames has predicted a constrained power supply for summer. Apart from industrial unrest, Eskom has significant maintenance plans in place for its existing power plants over the next few months when demand is traditionally at its lowest.
This comes as Eskom's battle to keep the lights is only expected to find some relief in December 2013 when the Medupi Power Station in Limpopo becomes operational.
Medupi is part of Eskom's R340-billion "New Build Programme", launched in 2005 to expand South Africa’s energy supply. The second power station, Kusile, in the Delmas area of Mpumalanga is due for completion between 2014 and 2025. Both power stations are considered on track for completion.
Eskom has struggled to balance its maintenance backlog against the imperative of keeping the lights on and avoiding load-shedding that systematically gripped the country during 2008.
Dames said South Africa’s power plants were considered old and aging. The oldest is 49 years old with an average age of 30 years. “Like a vehicle,” he said, “The older they get the more servicing needs to be done to address issues of volatility and reliability.”
Dames said during the first two quarters of 2012, more maintenance work was done than in the past two years combined. Eskom reduced its maintenance backlog from 26 to 20 units this year. But maintenance work was curtailed as power plants were kept open to make up for the lost supply from the Cahora Bassa supplier in Mozambique, which supplies 1 500 megawatts annually. Eskom imports 5% of its energy needs. Supply from Cahora Bassa is expected to resume in January next year.
Dames said he was proud that electricity supply was kept constant during Winter – a period traditionally one of high demand. While this was due in part to Eskom’s greater capacity to deal with adverse weather conditions like the snowstorms in August, Dames said they also experienced lower consumer demand. This was due to the economic slowdown but also to the positive response they received from television campaigns urging households to decrease consumption. “We saw a peak decrease of 420 megawatts following demands on the television,” said Dames.
Dames said Eskom had signed deals with all independent electricity suppliers in the country. “There is no one who produces electricity who we have not contracted with,” he said.