Eskom CEO Brian Dames briefs the portfolio committee on public enterprises on Monday.  Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Eskom CEO Brian Dames. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

STATE electricity provider Eskom has lifted the emergency notice it had issued on Tuesday, sooner than initially planned, as power stations improved performance while large electricity consumers have reduced their demand.

That had resulted in a "more favourable" and stable supply situation. "Understanding the impact on our key industrial customers and the economy, the emergency has been lifted," said Brian Dames, Eskom’s CEO, in a statement on Thursday night. He cautioned, however, that the system remained critical and thus users needed to keep reducing demand.

In the afternoon the utility had more than 2,000MW available as a reserve margin, up from the less than 400MW on Tuesday.

"Our generation plants have steadily improved performance, and that means the supply situation is more favourable now than it was on Tuesday," Eskom spokesman Andrew Etzinger said in a telephone interview earlier.

During the peak demand period, in the evenings, the spare margin would drop to 1,000MW, which was still a comfortable level.

Mr Etzinger said some generating units at a number of power stations had returned to service.

On Tuesday, Eskom had asked large electricity consumers — industrial and mining companies — to reduce their demand by at least 10% as demand exceeded supply, putting the national grid at risk of failure.

Eskom had expected the emergency period to end only by Friday of next week.

The Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG) of large industrial and mining companies was "pleased to learn" that the situation was back to normal, as this meant its members would now be able to resume normal operations. EIUG chairman Mike Rossouw told Business Day that EIUG members had given up about 1,000MW — on average 10% of their power usage — to help Eskom maintain electricity supply. It was, however, still too early to gauge the economic effect on the plants which had operated below capacity.

But the utility is not yet completely out of the woods.

About 5,000MW of capacity, some 11% of the total installed capacity of 44,000MW, is still out on planned routine maintenance. A further 5,500MW is out on unplanned maintenance, Mr Etzinger said.

These are plants that developed faults and need immediate attention — totalling more than 20% of installed capacity. The average age of the company’s fleet of 22 operating stations, mostly coal-fired, is 30 years. The design life of a station is 50 years, after which it must be demolished. Plants demand more intensive and expensive maintenance as they age, but Eskom came under pressure to meet demand over the past two years and had to defer maintenance on many plants.

This year Eskom had embarked on reducing the backlog, with up to five generating units out on planned maintenance during winter.