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South Africa Power Supply-Demand Gap Tightest Since January 2012

South Africa’s power capacity exceeded peak demand by the smallest amount since at least January 2012 on May 2, said Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the utility that provides 95 percent of the country’s electricity.

Peak capacity of 32,103 megawatts was 0.1 percent, or 22 megawatts, more than demand, the Johannesburg-based company said in an e-mailed statement today. Eskom targets spare capacity of 15 percent. The May 2 difference is the narrowest since the utility started providing twice-weekly data in January last year. One megawatt is enough to power about 500 to 1,000 homes.

The margin is as thin as when power cuts struck the continent’s biggest economy five years ago, pushing gold and platinum prices to records as Anglo American Plc, Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Harmony Gold Mining Co. halted operations for five days in January 2008.

“We did interrupt power to some of the BHP Billiton Ltd. potlines on Thursday evening to balance the system when a unit of one of our power stations tripped during peak,” spokeswoman Hilary Joffe said in an e-mail.

The utility is allowed to interrupt power to BHP’s aluminum smelter in Richards Bay on South Africa’s northeastern coast for as long as two hours a week without warning or compensation, according to the pricing arrangements between the two companies, Joffe said.

BHP Billiton

Eskom sells 9 percent of the power it produces to BHP Billiton below cost, Beeld newspaper reported in March.

BHP Billiton in January 2008 mothballed two lines at the Bayside aluminum smelter in Richards Bay to help stabilize power demand, and these remain shut, spokeswoman Lulu Letlape said on March 22. The utility has asked the country’s energy regulator to review a power-supply deal with BHP Billiton as it seeks to raise tariffs set in the 1990s, when it had spare capacity.

Eskom has had to defer some maintenance that it usually does in summer months to the winter, which runs from about May to August, because of unreliable power imports from Mozambique, labor strikes at coal suppliers and a faulty unit at Africa’s only nuclear power plant.

The utility is taking nine units, or 2,000 megawatts of generation capacity, out of production because it can’t delay maintenance on the aging facilities, Chief Executive Officer Brian Dames said on April 22.

Eskom said 8,348 megawatts, or 20 percent of its installed generating capacity, was out for maintenance today, 51 percent of that being unplanned.

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