Johannesburg, South Africa — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 11 May 2011 – South Africa’s power supplies are on a knife’s edge as winter rapidly approaches – and national power utility Eskom Holdings has warned that everyone must play their part if load-shedding is to be avoided.

“The New Age” quotes Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe as confirming that “the system is very tight,” but said there were currently no plans for load-shedding.

“We can’t guarantee that there won’t be load-shedding as our reserves are not at the level we would like them to be. The system is tight. We are working hard to ensure demand for electricity is met and load shedding will only be a very last resort,” she said.

What we are saying is that we are not comfortable with the line between supply and demand,” she said.

Memories of the winter of 2007 and the early part of 2008, when large swathes of South Africa were plunged into darkness daily as Eskom implemented widespread rolling blackouts, are still fresh in the minds of many people.

The planned load-shedding cost the South African economy billions of rands in lost revenue as the chaotic power supplies took their toll on businesses, both big and small. It also severely damaged South Africa’s reputation as an international investment destination.

During a pre-winter briefing last month, Eskom chief executive Brian Dames, conceded that it would be a tight balancing act to keep the lights on this winter.

“We are managing a tight power system,” he said, adding that Eskom had managed to keep the lights on during the first quarter of this year “thanks to innovative supply initiatives, active demand management and the cooperation of 49 million South Africans”.

Eskom had contracted to buy 373MW of electricity from independent power producers, and was boosting output from its own power stations by improving performance, Joffe said.

Short-term contracts had also been entered into with municipal power generators for more than 200MW to further augment supply options, while the national power generator also had a “healthy” 42-day stockpile of coal to help meet the predicted peak of 37 500MW in July, usually the coldest time of year for South Africa.
Joffe said Eskom was continuing to buy from and sell power to neighbouring countries, but it was not being sold at a discount. “We buy from them and they also buy from us. We are buying in power from Cahora Bassa,” she added.

Joffe said load-shedding could be avoided if consumers all played their part, and urged people to ensure they did everything possible to conserve energy, including switching off geysers during the day; limited the use of electrical appliances like heaters and electric blankets; and switching off as many lights as possible.

She pointed out that the biggest electricity demand usually came in the evening between 5pm and 8pm when most people arrived home after work and began cooking, as well as switching on heaters.