South Africa’s largest utility has been forced to ask industrial users to cut consumption by at least 10 per cent as the country struggles to maintain enough power to sustain the economy.

Eskom is currently spending in the region of $45.1bn to replace aging equipment and add plants to avoid the blackouts that affected homes, mines and factories for five days in 2008, however with new facilities not yet online it has declared a power emergency as capacity remains dangerously tight.
Eskom supplies 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity, made the demand to cut consumption until 9 p.m. this evening after four generating units went down during maintenance earlier today, Andrew Etzinger, a spokesman for the Johannesburg-based utility, told Bloomberg. The request was made under the so-called declaration of emergency protocol that was agreed with users in 2008.

“We are hopeful that by applying these measures, coupled with support from all electricity consumers, we will achieve the required load reduction necessary to protect the grid.”

The local units of ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Glencore Xstrata Plc are among the 32 companies that are members of the country’s Energy Intensive Users Group that can be called on to reduce usage when Eskom’s reserves are running low.

Eskom’s reserve margin is “virtually zero,” Etzinger said. “We have all our generators running at full capacity and at the moment we’re able to meet demand. But recognizing demand will increase by 1500 megawatts as we go into this evening’s peak, that would make us vulnerable.”

About 23 percent of Eskom’s 42,500 megawatts of installed generating capacity have been out of service this year, according to Bloomberg calculations made using the utility’s data. Capacity exceeded supply by an average of 7.5 percent in the period, half the 15 percent buffer that the company targets.

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