Molefe told media at parliament the possibility of renewed loadshedding would be at play until September 12.
He said the past three weeks free of outages did not mean that Eskom had reverted to its former policy of keeping the lights on at all costs but had mostly been able to juggle maintenance to the grid in such a way that it had maintained a big enough capacity reserve to avert loadshedding.
“Here we are breaching our own budget of 4 500 (megawatts of capacity). We are going to do it, we are going to leave a small margin, and if we have to do loadshedding between the fourth of September and the 12th of September, we are going to do it. Then so be it. Maybe we won’t go into loadshedding because we still have a small reserve,” he said.
“But if for example UCLF (unplanned capacity loss factor) between this week from the fourth of September to the 12 goes into levels that we had not anticipated, we will go into stage one loadshedding. So we are not keeping the lights on at all costs, we are prioritising maintenance.”
He said he believed South Africa did not have to choose between stable electricity supply and clearing Eskom’s maintenance backlog, but there would be periods again in December and during May to August next year — as demand increased during winter — where loadshedding could become likely.
“If you are confronted with a programme like this one where all of this maintenance must be done but if you do all the maintenance, you are going to have massive loadshedding … this is the problem that is confronting us next year in May to August. The simplistic answer is you either do maintenance or you keep the lights on, but it is too simplistic, it is unsophisticated.”
He said Eskom’s managers had been applying their minds to the problem and found a solution “where we will not switch off the lights and we will do maintenance”. He believed this was possible if the utility added 1 200 megawatts of generating capacity to the grid and calculated maintenance schedules to allow a margin of spare capacity that would prevent outages.
Molefe jokingly compared the latter to playing the video game, Tetris.
“In the next few years, we are going to transform this picture by adding on an additional 1 200 megawatts as well as by shifting things … playing a game of Tetris, we’ve got engineers doing this, in such a way that we shift away from loadshedding.”
He said proof that it could work was the way in which the commercialisation of the Medupi power plant with its 800 megawatt capacity compensated for Koeberg’s Unit 2 being shut down this week for mainentance and refuelling, resulting in a loss of its 900 megawatts, without instituting loadshedding.
Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said government no longer faced a stark choice between keeping the lights or performing maintenance and credited Molefe for the change.
“I think the issue is that the game plan has changed. Brian within two weeks sent all the project managers into the plants.”
Brown was reluctant to express herself on the country’s plans to increase its nuclear energy capacity by 9 600 megawatts by 2030, which Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson this week said remained on track, while denying again that Russia was the preferred bidder for the project.
However, Molefe weighed came out in favour of nuclear as a way to diversify and increase power supply. Critics caution that the country cannot afford the capital outlay it would require, but Molefe said once this was in place, nuclear energy was considerably cheaper than other sources and would provide a way of subsidising these.
“It is likely the future benefits will far outweigh the costs of building now … Koeberg, from a financial point of view is, bringing down the overall cost to the South African consumer,” he said.
Molefe added that though energy technology was likely to see massive advances in coming decades, he was sure that nuclear would “still be around in 30 years”.
Asked for his projection on future electricity tariff increases, Molefe mooted asking the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) to implement a 10-year determination cycle instead of the current one of three years to give both the utility and consumers certainty, adding that he would value this over “quantity” in terms of increases.