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As South African’s enter a national 21-day lockdown, municipalities and Eskom have moved to assure the public that there is a plan in place for managing power supply during this period and that basic municipal services such as refuse removal will continue.

According to a report in the Business Day, Eskom will scale back on its maintenance programme to minimise the number of workers on site during SA’s three-week lockdown.

“Eskom has had to postpone the philosophy maintenance for the duration of the lockdown as we have to keep the number of workers on site at a minimum,” the power utility said in a statement.

“We have instead shifted the focus to carrying out short-term maintenance and other repairs in order to optimise the generation units to meet the rising demand after the lockdown.”

Eskom, which earlier this year was said to the biggest threat to the South African economy due to rolling blackouts as a result of plant failures, is under pressure to main power supplies during this time.

Department of Trade and Industry minister Ebrahim Patel reassured the public that the government is working with the entire energy sector to ensure that South Africa does not face power shortages and load shedding during the coronavirus lockdown.

“This includes working with coal mines through to coal trucks, through to arrangements at the various Eskom plants,” he said. “Generation, transmission, distribution all of those (workers) will be exempted from the lockdown.”

“In addition, we do expect there will be a decreased demand for electricity when some of the larger enterprises begin their shutdown,” Patel said.

South African’s are not the only consumers who are concerned about the implications of an increased movement globally to ‘remain at home’ and practise social distancing and self-isolation.

In the United States, the North American Electric Reliability Corp (NERC) is urging power utilities to update business continuity plans and in particular, “weigh the need to prioritize construction or maintenance projects while the COVID-19 virus continues to spread.”

Vice president for security and preparedness of the Edison Electric Institute, Scott Aaronson, said that “contingency planning” to deal with unusual situations such as the coronavirus is in place, saying that the cause of the emergency may be new, but the plans to deal with an emergency situation were not.

“We have heightened awareness given the circumstances, and we have messaging to employees all the way up and down the chain — from CEOs to frontline workers — that: given this time of heightened awareness and potential vulnerability, we have to practice hygiene both of the personal and cyber variety,” he said.

Jersey Central Power & Light will not discontinue service to customers who are behind on their payments, but said it would continue billing customers and reading meters during the COVID-19 crisis.

Con Edison, on the other hand, has announced that it will stop all meter readings and installation of smart readers due to concerns of the growing coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, the utility clarified that utility staff would only enter homes for “emergencies, safety-related inspections, customer-requested service connections and enhancements.” 

This is in addition to stopping shutoffs of electric, natural gas or steam service due to non-payment; waiving new late-payment charges and suspending fees charged for being unable to access properties; temporarily shutting down customer walk-in centres, and temporarily stopping energy efficiency service visits to homes and businesses.

The United Kingdom’s National Grid, the system operator of electricity and gas supply in England, Scotland and Wales, has reassured consumers that they do not anticipate any issues in continuing to provide a reliable supply of gas and electricity. National Grid has, in fact, said they anticipate demand for power will fall as industry shuts down following government advice.

In a statement, National Grid said: “Millions of people rely on us every day to keep the lights on and the gas flowing, and we want to reassure everyone that we have plans in place to keep the networks working throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have well-developed procedures in place to manage the effects of a pandemic and National Grid Electricity System Operator has analysed the anticipated effects on electricity supply and demand of mass self-isolation of the UK’s workforce.

“In fact, demand across the country is expected to reduce; largely owing to a decrease in energy use from industrial consumers, which is likely to be greater than the increase in domestic demand as people stay at home.”

In Morocco, the National Office of Electricity and Drinking Water (ONEE) responded to misinformation, reiterating that it will not disrupt electricity and water supply during this time of crisis, and clarifying that the rumoured decision to waive invoice payments until further notice is misinformation.

The utility said further that “Permanent intervention teams will ensure the continuity of the supply of electricity and drinking water under the best conditions of quality of service.”