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South Africa’s energy firm Eskom declares power emergency

Published on 06/03/2014

South Africa's state-owned utility firm Eskom on Thursday declared an energy emergency and began rolling cuts to save power after coal shortages and technical problems seriously slashed energy generation.

Incessant and heavy rains over the past week had left coal too wet to use at its coal fired generation plants, the company said.

“The power system is very tight,” it added, as it asked major industrial customers to reduce usage by at least 10 percent, and domestic users to turn off swimming pool pumps, water heaters and other non-essentials.

“Heavy rains over the last few days and an increase in technical problems experienced at some of Eskom’s power stations,” have squeezed supplies on the national grid.

South Africa last suffered widespread and rolling blackouts in 2008 when factories and mines were forced to shutter, costing the economy billions of dollars and contributed to a credit ratings downgrade, a sell off in the rand and an outflow of investment.

Eskom is battling to keep Africa’s largest economy powered up as it races to construct new plants amid rising demand.

This is the fourth energy emergency declared in just as many months and “it’s the worst one so far,” according to an Eskom official who asked not to be named.

The company supplies around 95 percent of the country’s electricity.

It is under pressure to boost capacity and rejuvenate an ageing power grid, but is struggling to meet deadlines.

The power company is building three new coal-fired stations which will see the country’s generation and transmission capacity jump by another 17,000 megawatts from an average 40,000 MW.

One of the biggest coal fired power plants, Medupi, was supposed to have come on stream by the end of last year, but is now running behind schedule due to contractor bungling and labour disputes.

Heavily dependent on coal, South Africa is also looking at expanding nuclear energy production and venturing into shale gas.