Load shedding. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Load shedding. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

An acceleration in economic growth in SA could trigger power cuts, with Eskom’s fragile generation system unable to respond to increased demand for electricity.

The energy availability of Eskom’s generation fleet is supposed to be as high as 80%, but is currently as low as 69%, and even a 0.1% rise in GDP could result in outages, Nelisiwe Magubane, an Eskom board member, said at an event organised by Afriforesight in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The state-owned entity (SOE), which supplies about 95% of SA’s power, has a mountain of debt and is reliant on government bailouts to remain solvent. It is also contending with operational issues — most of its power stations are nearing retirement age and have not been properly maintained, while the construction of two new plants are running years behind schedule and way over budget.

SA has experienced intermittent load-shedding since late 2005, a measure Eskom said was needed to prevent the national grid from collapsing. Outages have eased over recent months largely due to the poor performance of the economy — GDP slumped an annualised 3.2% in the first quarter, the biggest contraction in a decade.

“We haven’t seen load-shedding because demand is going south,” said Mike Rossouw, an independent energy adviser. “If demand picks up tomorrow, you will see load-shedding every day.”

Bloomberg