South Africa’s troubled state utility Eskom said yesterday it would extend power cuts into today, with energy experts predicting that outages would have to be stepped up next week as more businesses reopen after the New Year holidays.
The latest round of power cuts across South Africa, which have been implemented sporadically since the weekend, is a reminder of the fragility of Eskom and how its unreliability has frustrated President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to lift economic growth.
They have meant a baptism of fire for Eskom’s new Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter, who started work on Monday and will oversee a government plan to split the company — which produces more than 90% of South Africa’s power — into three units to make it more efficient.
Eskom said yesterday that it would continue overnight cuts of up to 2,000 megawatts (MW) from the national grid until 0600 local time today as it had lost additional generating capacity overnight.
The utility has been hobbled by repeated faults at its fleet of coal-fired power stations.
It often has to rely on emergency reserves like pumped storage facilities and open-cycle gas turbines to meet power demand, but those reserves were insufficient yesterday, when more than 14,000 MW of its 44,000 MW nominal capacity was offline due to plant breakdowns.
Clyde Mallinson, a local energy expert, said he expected power cuts of between 4,000 MW and 6,000 MW next week.
Analysts say power demand could rise by around 3,000 MW from January 13 as electricity-hungry companies like factories and mines ramp up output after recent public holidays.
A three-month Eskom outlook released this week showed it would struggle to meet its reserves throughout February and March under a likely scenario with 13,700 MW of breakdowns, raising the risk of further power cuts that could dent first-quarter economic output.
Power cuts implemented by Eskom last year pushed Africa’s most industrialised economy to the brink of recession, with data yesterday showing another contraction in the manufacturing sector in November.