Eskom's plants fall silent

Two gas turbine power stations which use diesel to generate electricity have shut down.

Eskom has implemented stage three loadshedding across the country. Picture: EPA.

JOHANNESBURG - Eskom says it's had to move to stage three load shedding due to the shutdown of two gas turbine power stations which use diesel to generate electricity.

The parastatal today announced its implementing stage three, meaning there will be load shedding three times a day.

It says its diesel reserves have been depleted in the Western Cape, leading to the shutdown of both power stations.

Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger says, "Eskom has unfortunately needed to extend load shedding to stage three on its schedule and what this means is more parts of the country will be affected at any given point in time."

The parastatal has also confirmed stage two load shedding will commence tomorrow morning from 6am until 10 pm and again on Sunday from 8am until 10pm.

Etzinger says they are trying to build reserves.

"The worst case scenario is a national blackout, we've seen it in other countries over the last few years where the entire grid is lost and doesn't supply any customers. In South Africa, if we had that we'd have to restart the grid, so we'd have no power anywhere in the country for weeks."

Eskom's inability to meet demand in December, when electricity usage usually dips, underscores the precarious state of South Africa's power supply due to years of underfunding.

Energy Expert Chris Yelland says the demand on the power grid should be less and this is worrying.

"This is the worst it has been since 2008 and it's happening in December at a time when the load is normally quite low."

Economic growth has been stunted this year, but is expected to lift to between 2 and 2.5 percent next year.

Nedbank Chief Economist Dennis Dykes says the power cuts could be devastating.

"Obviously it needs more action than Eskom can deliver."

There are concerns that the utility will battle to fully restore continued power supply and cuts could carry on for several days.

Etzinger says the country will have relief from rolling blackouts in about two weeks' time as the demand for electricity will drop during that period but warns load shedding may continue next month.

"From January we are going to be tight as business starts up again. Unfortunately that is the most likely scenario."

Eskom instituted maintenance last weekend, filling up its diesel reserves and refilling the upper dam at the Cahora-Bassa power scheme hydroelectric power station in Mozambique.

South Africa imports a portion of its electricity from the scheme.

It was understood that reserves had been replenished however, yesterday Eskom declared an emergency and instituted load shedding causing traffic chaos.

Etzinger says despite the reserves they are simply battling to meet demand.

"We are of course in the process of building a new power station, we are working very hard to improve our existing power stations which is the problem."

At the same time, power cuts have had serious ramifications for commerce as shoppers head to malls.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci)'s CEO Neren Rau says power cuts at this time of year will damage the economy.

"This is critically important for retailers to be fully operational during this time. Many of them build up their capacity substantially towards the festive season."

However, energy expert Chris Yelland says the public should be grateful that Eskom is load shedding as the alternative is terrible.

"If you do not balance supply and demand you eventually have a cascading situation where all the generators in South Africa trip out and have a so-called national blackout."

Meanwhile, the City of Johannesburg says it will now help Eskom by remotely switching off geyser control systems to certain areas.

Yesterday, the utility implemented stage two load shedding across the country.

The utility, which supplies virtually all of South Africa's power, said last month the government's promised R20 billion rand cash injection wouldn't be enough to ease funding constraints and help it avoid a credit downgrade.

Eskom has been scrambling to build new power stations to ease razor-thin supply margins, but has been beset by a two year delay at its massive planned Medupi plant.

An extended series of rolling power outages in 2008 caused misery for millions and cost the country billions of dollars in lost output.

Click here to view Eskom's load shedding schedule.

Click here for an interactive map of the load shedding schedule in Cape Town.