Eskom: Power supply 'a serious concern' from 2011

South Africa’s power supply is seen as a serious concern from 2011 onwards until new power stations come on stream and as the country needs to replace ageing plants, state-owned utility Eskom said on Tuesday.

Erica Johnson, Eskom’s chief officer for customer network business, said the country needs to build an additional 20 gigawatts of power by 2020 and 40 gigawatts by 2030 to meet fast rising demand in Africa’s biggest economy.

Eskom was forced to step up investment in new capacity after power cuts paralysed the key mining industry in early 2008.

Johnson said the utility would continue playing catch up until at least 2020, due to lack of investment in new capacity and ageing plants.

“From 2011, our maintenance window will start to be constrained ... adequacy of supply is a serious concern in 2011 and beyond,” she told an Africa power conference.

Johnson was confident supply for the World Cup, to be held in South Africa in June and July, would be adequate.

She said the additional demand as a result of the one-month soccer event is estimated at 275MW, on top of the country’s total anticipated peak demand during that period of 37,2GW.

South Africa’s total generation capacity at the moment stands at 43GW, she said.

Johnson said Eskom’s current expansion programme and the advanced projects proposed by independent power producers (IPPs) could supply a total of 14GW by 2017, but more projects needed to be identified to meet fast-growing demand.

Estimates show demand is rising by 3% a year.

Breathing space
She said the decision on a third baseload power plant needed to be taken urgently to make sure that capacity could be supplied by 2017, given that a new plant takes between seven to 10 years to build, depending on the chosen energy source.

The government said last week that up to 5 000MW could be supplied via cogeneration in the short term, but Johnson said that another baseload plant was still necessary.

“Cogeneration gives you the breathing space to not run out of power reserve, but it’s not going to change the fact that South Africa will need another baseload station,” she said.

Both Eskom and the government have signalled that the next big plant could either be another coal-fired station, to be built either by Eskom or an IPP, or a nuclear plant.

Renewable energy, while seen playing a critical role to help reduce South Africa’s heavy carbon footprint, is not considered an option to supply the necessary megawatts in the near term.—Reuters

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