South Africa sees power consumption heading towards dangerous territory

Oct 05, 2009 02:00 AM

Demand for electricity had returned to levels recorded before the economic slowdown, prompting the need for South Africa's power conservation programme to be implemented as soon as possible, Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger said.
The Department of Energy also cautioned that consumption levels were heading into "dangerous" territory and that demand-side management initiatives should be intensified.

Etzinger said expected power demand was about 32,000 MW, which was met with online capacity of 33,700 MW. Demand was comparable to this time last year.
He said: "We have sufficient capacity to get through the daily peak but it's not a huge reserve margin if we exclude the gas turbines."

The gas turbines provide an additional 2,417 MW of power but are expensive to operate due to diesel costs. The utility's R 385 bn build programme aims to secure an internationally acceptable reserve margin of 15 %. It is designed to bring on stream more than 6,000 MW over the next five years.
At presentEskom's reserve margin falls far short of that level.

Electricity usage and generation statistics, released by Statistics SA, estimated electricity consumption in August to be 1.6 % lower than in August 2008 -- the smallest annual decrease recorded this year.
Etzinger said that since the end of August Eskom's high winter tariffs had fallen away, prompting a return to full production of large industrial customers and in particular ferrochrome smelters. Official September consumption levels are not yet available.

Bheki Khumalo, a spokesman for the Energy Department, said the government was monitoring the situation closely.
"We're quite aware that demand is returning to pre-crisis levels", he said, referring to the global slowdown that has given South Africa a year-long reprieve from load-shedding. "The other danger is that we use the summer periods to do maintenance so available capacity is not there. If demand continues to rise in summer, we will be in a very difficult situation."

Etzinger called for a power conservation programme -- intended to make savings targets mandatory for certain categories of electricity users -- to be implemented "as soon as possible, but realistically we expect it to come into effect in the course of 2010".
The programme, likely to first target South Africa's top 500 commercial and industrial users, has been under construction by the government's national energy response team this year, with a revised set of recommendations due before the end of the year. At the end of last year, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa published draft principles for the programme, including the idea of sectoral targets, using a 2006/07 baseline and a market to trade power among participants. The actual targets have yet to be negotiated.

Etzinger said Eskom expected the overall savings target to be about 10 %.
If the power conservation programme was not implemented before South Africa started "running into trouble" with efforts to meet demand, then Eskom would run itsgas turbines. The utility would consider load shedding only as a last resort, Etzinger said.

Jabu Maphalala, a spokesman for the Chamber of Mines, said current demand, although back to pre-slowdown levels, did not match highs when the electricity crisis hit at the start of last year, during which time mines and smelters shut for several days and were subsequently required to cut power consumption by 10 %.
Mining was the only industry that had "responded, implemented and maintained" a 10 % reduction, Maphalala said.
"The issue for us is other large consumers, such as municipalities. What about them?"

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