January 6, 2011 / 3:15 PM / in 7 years

S.Africa power supply tight for next 2 years: Eskom

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa has enough generating capacity to keep the lights on for the next two years, but only just, the head of state power utility Eskom

<p>Electricity pylons in Johannesburg, May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/Files</p>

said on Thursday.

Chief executive Brian Dames said he did not want to resort to a repeat of the rolling blackouts, or load-shedding, that kept the creaking grid on its feet in 2008 but cost the economy millions of dollars in lost output.

“Eskom has resolved not to return to the disruptive load shedding,” Dames told a news conference. “However that resolve will be tested during the next two years.”

“We have enough capacity but not enough reserves. The pressure is around having adequate reserves.”

Eskom supplies the majority of South Africa’s electricity, but has been struggling to meet fast-rising demand and has said supply will remain tight until 2015 when two new power plants come on stream.

The first of six units of its 4,788 MW Medupi power plant -- the utility’s first new power plant in over two decades -- should come on stream in 2012, and the first unit of the 4,800 MW Kusile plant should be operational in late 2014.

Dames said the quality of coal supplied to the utility remained a problem, and heavy rains this month in some parts of the county had affected coal production and supply.

Furthermore, the utility, which normally services its power plants in summer when demand is lower, had to shut one of two units at its 1,800 MW Koeberg nuclear plant for repairs, delaying scheduled repairs to other plants.

“The shutdown of one Koeberg unit had added significant risks. It means that much of the maintenance that had been planned at the coal-fired stations must be delayed,” Dames said.

Dames also said the level of unplanned outages at coal-fired stations had been increasing over the past quarter, reducing the space for maintenance, hence increasing the risk that further units could fail.

South Africa is increasingly looking towards renewable energy sources to help plug a chronic power shortage and decrease its dependence on the coal-fired power stations that provide most of its electricity.

The country expects to have 7,200 MW of electricity supplied by renewable projects over the next two decades under a new energy resource plan currently under development.

South Africa’s power demand is expected to more than double from levels of around 37,000 MW by 2030.

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