South African power cuts to drag on into Friday

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s troubled state utility Eskom said it would extend power cuts into Friday, with energy experts predicting that outages would have to be stepped up next week as more businesses reopen after the New Year holidays.

The logo of state power utility Eskom is seen outside Cape Town’s Koeberg nuclear power plant in this picture taken March 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings//File Photo

The latest round of power cuts across South Africa, which have been implemented sporadically since the weekend, is a reminder of the fragility of Eskom and how its unreliability has frustrated President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to lift economic growth.

They have meant a baptism of fire for Eskom’s new Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter, who started work on Monday and will oversee a government plan to split the company – which produces more than 90% of South Africa’s power – into three units to make it more efficient.

Eskom said in a statement on Thursday that it would continue overnight cuts of up to 2,000 megawatts (MW) from the national grid until 0600 local time (0400 GMT) on Friday as it had lost additional generating capacity overnight.

The utility has been hobbled by repeated faults at its fleet of coal-fired power stations.

It often has to rely on emergency reserves like pumped storage facilities and open-cycle gas turbines to meet power demand, but those reserves were insufficient on Thursday, when more than 14,000 MW of its 44,000 MW nominal capacity was offline due to plant breakdowns.

Clyde Mallinson, a local energy expert, said he expected power cuts of between 4,000 MW and 6,000 MW next week.

Analysts say power demand could rise by around 3,000 MW from Jan. 13 as electricity-hungry companies like factories and mines ramp up output after recent public holidays.

A three-month Eskom outlook released this week showed it would struggle to meet its reserves throughout February and March under a likely scenario with 13,700 MW of breakdowns, raising the risk of further power cuts that could dent first-quarter economic output.

Power cuts implemented by Eskom last year pushed Africa’s most industrialised economy to the brink of recession, with data on Thursday showing another contraction in the manufacturing sector in November.

($1 = 14.1772 rand)

Reporting by Alexander Winning and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Kim Coghill and Susan Fenton

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