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South Africa’s power crisis

11 October 2007 – Eskom has warned of continued blackouts during this week and has called on all consumers to use electricity efficiently by keeping only essential lighting and electrical appliances on.

Planned maintenance shutdowns combined with cold, wet weather has strained the utility’s ability to provide power across the country.

Large industrial users such as operators of aluminium, ferrochrome and steel furnaces and the mining industry have been heavily affected.

Nto Rikhotso of Eskom’s power generating division said current load requirement was between 1 000 and 2 000MW.

According to Fani Zulu, Eskom spokesman, maintenance shutdowns have taken 10 power stations, with a capacity of 4 700MW, offline – effectively eliminating 12% of the national supply.

Additionally, five generators and three power stations were affected by weather related technical problems and were out of operation, while another group of generators were operating sub-optimally, due to wet coal feedstock.

"The only way to manage the supply deficit is through load shedding. It is a national shortage, so the measures have been introduced around the country. We are trying to keep each event to a maximum of two hours," said Zulu.

Certain large industrial customers have signed up for a voluntary programme called demand market participation, by which these large consumers of electricity agree to reduce consumption at times of high national load.

Bronwyn Wilkinson, BHP Billiton spokesman, confirmed that some power shedding was taking place at Hillside and Bayside in SA and Mozal in Mozambique — but load shedding remained within the limits of the agreement with Eskom.

However, aluminium smelters were not compensated for power shedding, by agreement with Eskom, she said.

South Africa is currently operating on a reserve margin of 8% – lower than the international benchmark of 15%.

A R204 billion ($30 billion) capital expenditure programme aimed at increasing capacity from 39 000MW to 61 000MW is underway.