May 21, 2012 / 3:48 PM / 6 years ago

S.Africa's Eskom says power supply extremely tight

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African power utility Eskom said on Monday that available spare supply on its electricity network had fallen to 2 percent of total capacity as temperatures fell with the onset of the southern hemisphere winter.

Electricity pylons are seen as the sun sets in Soweto outside Johannesburg, South Africa, November 22, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

In a bi-weekly status update, Eskom said it had 34,945 MW of capacity for the Monday evening peak hours, when people return home and turn on stoves and heaters, against forecast demand of 34,248 MW, leaving a buffer of just under 700 MW.

The available capacity includes gas-fired emergency reserves.

At one point in January the difference between peak demand and available capacity was a tiny 460 MW, mainly due to maintenance and unplanned outages, bringing Eskom closer to economically damaging rolling blackouts experienced in 2008.

Eskom is walking a tightrope to keep power flowing to factories, mines and smelters that had to shut down for days four years ago, costing the economy billions of dollars in lost output and causing a spike in the price of metals such as gold and platinum, of which South Africa is a major producer.

Spokeswoman Hillary Joffe said Monday’s narrow gap was the result of final maintenance work that needed to be completed before the onset of the full South African winter in June.

Repair work should start tailing off in two weeks, she said, urging consumers to limit the amount of electricity they consume, especially during peak hours.

“It is tight and we are urging people to work with us to keep the lights on,” she told Talk Radio 702.

Eskom says peak demand rises by 600-700 MW for every 1 degree Centigrade drop in winter temperatures.

Johannesburg, the country’s economic hub, is forecast to have an overnight low of 3 degrees Centigrade (37 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday, before warming in the rest of the week.

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