South Africans Face Blackout Risk Tonight on Eskom Shortages

South Africans are at risk of blackouts tonight as Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. declared the second power emergency this week.

Supplies will be severely constrained as the peak evening usage period approaches, Andrew Etzinger, a spokesman for the state-owned, Johannesburg-based power utility, said by phone. Eskom declared its first emergency since November yesterday after four generators went down during maintenance operations.

“The ongoing capacity constraints have not cleared to the extent we had hoped,” Etzinger said. “We’re asking all customers to use electricity sparingly.” There is a risk of rolling blackouts, known locally as load-shedding, in residential areas across the country this evening, he said. The areas affected can be found on the utility’s website, he said.

Eskom, which supplies 95 percent of South Africa’s power, has also asked large industrial customers such as ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Glencore Xstrata Plc to cut usage by at least 10 percent to ease supply pressures, Etzinger said.

South Africa last suffered scheduled residential blackouts in 2008. The country has a population of 52 million people and is the world’s biggest producer of platinum and the sixth-biggest of gold. The utility is spending 500 billion rand ($46 billion) to replace aging equipment and add plants to avoid a repeat of the 2008 blackouts.

About 23 percent of Eskom’s 42,500 megawatts of installed generating capacity has been out of service this year, according to Bloomberg calculations made using the utility’s data. Capacity exceeded supply by an average of 7.5 percent in the period, half the 15 percent buffer that the company targets.

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