Eskom warns of looming power squeeze


[] — IT’S going to take a massive team effort from all parties concerned to avoid load shedding in 2011.

The lack of new power stations in South Africa would finally catch up with the country this year and could lead to a repetition of the dark days of 2008.

Eskom CEO Brian Dames said on Thursday that Eskom has repeatedly warned South Africa’s power network would be under massive pressure in 2011 and 2012, due to a lack of new generating capacity.

“Now 2011 is here, and we can confirm that the power network is under pressure,” said Dames.

Eskom’s new power stations would only start producing power in 2013, and Dames said it’s going to demand a team effort to manage the network until then.

“If adequate steps aren’t taken to manage the gap between the demand for power and the available power, the deficit this year will be as much as six terawatt hours. That’s equal to the amount of power that a city like Cape Town uses in one year.”

Eskom’s total power capacity at present is 41,500 MW, of which 1,500 MW are imported from Cahora Bassa.

“The total demand for power at the moment is 30,000 MW at peak times. That’s expected to increase to 32,000 MW in the next two weeks,’ Dames said.

However, he said, Eskom expected the demand during the winter months to rise further to 38,000 MW.

That leaves a reserve of only 3,500 MW for unforeseen power problems.

This reserve should normally be 15% of the total power network. But, in winter this would fall to just over 8%.

“Our power stations are old, between 30 and 40 years old, and unexpected short circuits and unavailability of power stations occur frequently,” Dames said.

The amount of power that was unavailable on Thursday, for example, was 4,521 MW. If this were to be repeated in the winter months, load shedding would be unavoidable.


Investment Solutions economist Chris Hart said what makes Eskom’s job particularly difficult is that the economy is recovering.

“As the economy gets going after the recession, the demand for power will simply continue. The recession helped us in 2009 and 2010, because the demand wasn’t as high as it would’ve been without the impact of the recession. This helped Eskom in particular.”

Hart said that factories want to start returning to production, and consequently they need more electricity.

“Is load shedding coming again? No one knows for certain, but the warning signs are definitely there.”

Dames said that Eskom is looking at various ways of managing the situation. This includes the use of diesel-driven power generators.

“This option is very expensive, but at peak times when demand is at its highest, that would be an essential expenditure. Another option is to negotiate contracts with independent power suppliers as soon as possible. We have already signed contracts with four parties to provide up to 287 MW of power in the future.

“Also, we are appealing to all South Africans to save as much power as possible.’