South Africa Facing Risk of Unprecedented Level of Power Outages

Sep 18, 2022 by Bloomberg

South Africa is facing a risk of an unprecedented level of blackouts this week after units at two of its coal-fired power plants broke down.

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. earlier on Sunday began cutting 6,000 megawatts from the national grid, in what it calls Stage 6 power cuts, after generation units tripped at the Kusile and Kriel power stations. That’s sufficient energy to supply almost 4 million South African homes. The nation is now at risk of breaching Stage 6, the utility’s Chief Executive Officer Andre De Ruyter said at a briefing on Sunday when asked if the situation might worsen. 

Eskom started withdrawing 6,000 megawatts from the grid in June. That was the first time since 2019. 

The ongoing blackouts -- the worst year on record -- were a major contributor to the economy’s 0.7% contraction in the second quarter. Severe outages are a hazard to workers in deep-level mines and hurts manufacturing across Africa’s most-industrialized nation. Eskom also poses a significant risk to public finances, with the government guaranteeing as much as 350 billion rand ($19.9 billion) of its debt.

Eskom is struggling to meet electricity demand because its old and poorly maintained power stations continually break down. The nation has been subjected to rolling blackouts since 2008. Eskom has had to resort to outages for eight straight months this year. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced steps in July to encourage private power generation to supplement supply from renewable sources. Eskom plans to procure about 1,000 megawatts of power on Monday from private power producers, De Ruyter said at the briefing.

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By Renee Bonorchis

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