Eskom Doubles Rolling South Africa Blackouts; Cuts Seen All Week

South Africa’s power utility doubled the scale of rolling blackouts it started earlier Monday because of “unforeseen technical problems” at some generating plants and expects peak demand to exceed supply through the week.

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. started cutting as many as 2,000 megawatts off its grid from 3 p.m., after starting 1,000 megawatts of cuts at 11 a.m., the Johannesburg-based utility said on its Twitter account. This is the second time the company has had to implement managed blackouts this year as its aging fleet of plants struggles to cope with demand in Africa’s second-biggest economy.

“The power system is severely constrained,” said Eskom, which generates 95 percent of the electricity for the country. It forecasts demand exceeding capacity during peak evening consumption from Tuesday through Jan. 30, it said in a later e-mailed statement.

Eskom expects to implement power cuts almost daily until April after deferred maintenance led to more plant breakdowns, it said on Jan. 15. The utility implemented 15 days of rolling blackouts last year, the first since 2008, and did the same on Jan. 9 as its equipment becomes more susceptible to breakdowns. Construction delays on new power plants mean Eskom can’t meet demand on many days.

“It’s about plants coming back from maintenance,” Shaun Nel, spokesman for the Energy Intensive Users Group of Southern Africa, said by phone. The EIUG’s members include ArcelorMittal and BHP Billiton Ltd.’s local units and consume about 45 percent of the country’s electricity. When repairs have finished there can be issues related to the restart of units known as “post-maintenance outages,” he said.

Eskom didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Power demand by industrial users will rise by the end of the month as companies return to full production after the festive-season break, Nel said. Still, the issue is capacity, not demand, he said. “It’s going to be the situation for at least the next year,” he said.

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