Eskom ‘blackout’ free until April? Pushing nuclear expansion.

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, Nov 4 (Reuters) – South African power utility Eskom does not expect to implement electricity blackouts until April 2016 and wants the government to proceed with a planned nuclear fleet expansion, its chief executive told parliament on Wednesday.

Africa’s most advanced economy is battling its worst electricity crisis, with Eskom scrambling to keep the lights on in millions of homes and businesses.

Shopkeeper waits for customers in his candlelit fast food store during a load shedding electricity blackout in Cape Town. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

After embarking on a massive maintenance programme to keep its ageing coal-fired power plants running, Eskom was earlier this year forced to implement frequent power cuts countrywide, known locally as “load shedding”.

However, the utility has only cut power to certain areas for only 2 hours and 20 minutes in the past 87 days.

“We will continue to supply the country’s electricity and maintain our plant with minimal or no load shedding,” Eskom’s Chief Executive Brian Molefe said.

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The Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, whose ministry oversees state-owned companies, said in August that Eskom will continue to impose power cuts for the next 18 months as it struggles with capacity shortages.

Molefe reiterated on Wednesday that Eskom supported the government’s plan to add 9,600 megawatts (MW) of new nuclear power to the grid by 2030, saying atomic energy was an important part of South Africa’s energy mix.

Eskom has said it expects to have 53,600 MW on the grid by 2025 compared with about 45,000 MW at present.

Read also: Eskom must invest another $15bn by 2022 to keep electricity grid working

Eskom operates the continent’s only nuclear power plant at Koeberg station close to Cape Town.

Molefe said a nuclear programme, which has stirred controversy over its massive cost implications for an economy expected to grow beyond by 1.5 percent in 2015 from a previously forecast 2 percent, was feasible.

He said nuclear plants typically have a life beyond 60 years and the pay-back period was around 20 years.

“It is feasible to fund and operate further nuclear plants in South Africa and in fact it is urgent to do so,” he said of a nuclear fleet estimated to cost more than $100 billion.

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