Eskom still in the (spot)light after suffering worst power outage this year

By Peroshni Govender

JOHANNESBURG, April 14 (Reuters) – South Africa’s Eskom suffered its worst power outage this year on Tuesday after losing a quarter of its supply, forcing it to impose widespread power cuts to prevent the strained grid from collapsing.

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Eskom, which provides 95 percent of power in Africa’s most advanced economy, said it lost 9,500 megawatts (MW) of electricity due to unplanned outages in addition to the 5,000 MW it had lost earlier due to scheduled maintenance.

The utility has an installed capacity of 42,000 MW but its normal capacity is around 32,000 MW because some of its plants are usually under maintenance at any one time.

Eskom has been forced to implement controlled power cuts in South Africa this year to prevent the national grid from being overwhelmed.

“At this stage it is not clear how long it will take to fix the problem,” Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said.

“None of our power plants are completely offline. The technical faults are not linked, it is just a coincidence that there is a multiple trip at the same time.”

Earlier, Eskom had said it would need to take the rolling blackouts to “Stage 3,” which means it needs to cut 4,000 MW.

Phasiwe said generators across Eskom’s fleet of 13 coal-fired power stations had begun to fail from about 2pm local time but he could not disclose the nature of the problems, saying an investigation was underway.

Some major power consumers were affected by the power outages. Eskom has an agreement with them to reduce electricity consumption by 10 percent when supply is constrained.

Africa’s largest metal producer ArcelorMittal South Africa said it had to reduce its consumption because of the power cuts but that its smelting plant was still operating.

“We have been affected the whole of today. There are agreed levels and we turn down within those levels,” said Kesebone Maema, a spokeswoman for South Africa’s unit of the world’s biggest steelmaker.

South Africa’s government says the electricity outages are expected to last two years and that its economic growth forecast for 2015 could halve to 1 percent from 2 percent because of power constraints. (Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by James Macharia and David Evans)