Industry watchdogs report that South Africa’s demand for electricity has risen back to highs seen prior to the start of the economic slowdown, to the days when ‘load shedding‘ was extensively practiced by Eskom.
According to Philip Hampton, chief technology officer at Powermode, a specialist power management company, the situation should be of growing concern to businesses that have been “lulled into a false sense of security” in 2009.
“There has been a steady increase in demand for power over the last three to four months with the return of many large mines and smelters to full production after being shut down for extended periods or forced run on lower production schedules in order to conserve power as required by Eskom,” he says.
Hampton believes the spectre of load shedding and power blackouts could return to South Africa before year-end  if rumours that power stations could be pulled off the national grid for repairs and maintenance are true.
“While the utility has launched a multi-billion rand expansion programme to boost supply, it will take some time before new power plants are commissioned and added to the grid,” says Hampton.
“In the mean time demand is steadily increasing and putting the current system under pressure which means it will be more susceptible to even minor incidents at power stations which could trigger a return to enforced power cuts.”
Turning to the alternative power market, Hampton says users should take this opportunity to reassess their positions with regard to strategic power supplies and make contingency plans accordingly – preferably in partnership with a knowledgeable consultant.
“This is particularly relevant as Eskom is intent on pushing through significant price increases – to around 80 – 88c/kwh, up from the current 33c. However, because these prices do not include Eskom’s increasing revenue requirement outside of its operational requirements, final prices could be much higher than this target range,” he adds.