Eskom Says South Africa Power Demand to Exceed Supply Tonight

South Africa’s peak demand for power tonight is expected to exceed supply for the first time since at least January last year, widening the gap to the worst since rolling blackouts in 2008, the electricity utility said.

Peak demand is forecast at 35,364 megawatts, while the capacity to meet that is 34,970 megawatts, a 394-megawatt deficit, Johannesburg-based Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., which provides more than 95 percent of the nation’s power, said in an e-mailed statement.

The margin is the thinnest since 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.

“The risk that we flag is that our margins are very, very tight,” Hilary Joffe, a spokeswoman for Eskom, said by phone. “There’s a long weekend coming up and that’s a good time to do maintenance.” June 17 is a public holiday in South Africa.

The company has emergency resources available to make up the shortfall, including as much as 2,100 megawatts of interruptible load reduction available from BHP Billiton Ltd.’s aluminum smelters. The utility is allowed to interrupt power to the smelters in Richards Bay on South Africa’s northeastern coast and another in neighboring Mozambique for as long as two hours a week without warning or compensation.

Eskom can also obtain “a few hundred” megawatts from large customers that may volunteer to give up some power allocations, she said.

The company has had to defer maintenance on some of its aging units to the nation’s current winter months because of higher unplanned outages in summer. Eskom had 41,647 megawatts of capacity as of March 31, and about 25 percent of that is out for planned and unscheduled maintenance.

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