Electricity was cut across large parts of South Africa, including the country’s economic centre, Johannesburg, on Thursday as state power utility Eskom cut power supply for the first time since April 2008, Eskom’s media desk confirmed.
South Africa has been on tight power supply since load shedding in 2008 cost the economy billions as demand outstripped supply. Eskom had not built new power generation capacity in more than a decade to 2005.
National load shedding started at 9am and would be rotational in two-hour sessions until 10pm on Thursday evening, Eskom said.
Eskom had budgeted R385bn for building new generation capacity between 2005 and last year, and wants to secure much more funding — possibly surpassing a trillion rand by 2026.
More power commissioned
Since the programme started in 2005, an additional 4,453.5MW has already been commissioned. The plan is to deliver an additional 16,304MW in power station capacity by 2017, but some continuing construction projects have been delayed, notably the 4,800MW Medupi and 4,800MW Kusile power stations.
South Africa is dependent on coal for most of its electricity, and heavy rains in the past week had soaked much of the coal supply.
Eskom spokesman Andrew Etzinger was in a television interview at the time BDlive called, but he had told Sapa earlier that there would be load shedding in different suburbs across the country.
Municipalities were informed of the need to reduce electricity and they would decide in which suburbs to cut power.
Another Eskom spokesman said that last year was the first time the power utility had conducted maintenance in summer and winter, and this work was continuing. Load shedding would affect all of South Africa, including large industry.
Mr Etzinger told Sapa he could not say if power cuts would affect the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in the North Gauteng High Court. He said the Tshwane municipality would be in a better position to comment on that.
Earlier on Thursday, Eskom declared a power emergency and Mr Etzinger said seven days of heavy rain had left coal stocks wet.
“We have asked our large industrial customers, to reduce their consumption by 10% but it appears this will not be enough,” Mr Etzinger said.
The South Deep mine run by Gold Fields was asked to reduce electricity consumption by 20% but production is unaffected, said spokesman Sven Lunsche.
Reducing consumption by 20%
“We are complying with Eskom’s request to reduce consumption by 20% but we are still producing. It’s not an issue for us,” he said. Sibanye Gold, the largest producer of South African gold, has not stopped operations and is operating normally, said spokesman James Wellsted.
In 2008, companies with deep-level mines stopped operations for fear about the stability of electricity supply and safety of workers underground and the ability to hoist them to the surface. There was no such concern now because Eskom has been in close contact with the mining industry, Mr Wellsted said.
Most of South Africa’s platinum mines are not working because of a seven-week strike. Bloomberg reported at the end of February that platinum sector demand for electricity had fallen by 400 MW or by 17% from normal. One industry source said if there wasn’t a strike at the Rustenburg mines of the world’s three leading platinum producers the power crisis Eskom finds itself in now could have come sooner.
This is the fourth emergency Eskom has declared this year.
In February, at its quarterly state of the system briefing, Eskom CE Brian Dames said power supply had been constrained throughout summer, which, at the time, culminated in the declaration of two system emergencies on February 20 and 21.
By Sue Blaine and Allan Seccombe. Source: BD Live