Eskom CEO explains why we need load shedding

Tshediso Matona says the utility is trying to prevent a national blackout.

Eskom chief executive officer briefs the media on load shedding on 8 December 2014. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Eskom chief executive Tshediso Matona has apologised to the country for the inconvenience caused by load shedding, saying the utility is trying to prevent a national blackout.

"We want to apologise to the nation for the inconvenience of the past few weeks due to load shedding."

The country experienced rolling power cuts at the weekend and again today, because certain units have not come back online.

Load shedding is set to continue until 10pm.

Matona explained the current state of the power system and what to expect in the next few weeks.

"It pains us to load shed, but we are living on the edge for a variety of reasons. A blackout is a catastrophic event, so when we do load shedding we are trying to retreat from the brink of a disaster."

Matona said several units at the Majuba Power Station which were undergoing urgent maintenance could not return to the grid this morning, which is why load shedding was implemented again.

This Thursday and Friday however, there's a high risk of rolling blackouts, as diesel reserves are expected to start running low.

He assured South Africans that several units will be back online during December which will help the current situation and therefore load shedding over Christmas will remain a low risk.

This spate of power cuts is the worst the country has experienced since the 2008 crisis which saw rolling blackouts implemented for months.

But Matona said Eskom is in a better situation compared to 2008 to manage the challenges.

At the same time, the latest spate of load shedding is now threatening to affect cellphone signal in the country, putting extra pressure on reserve batteries at cellphone towers.

Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman says it's affecting cellphone companies that are trying to ensure that cellphone signal continues running.

"We are stretched by this but for the most part we've been able to keep things running."

Eskom in the Western Cape's Alwie Lester says the power utility is very conscious about the impact load shedding has on businesses.

"I think we are sensitive to it as well, but again if you look at the principles around load shedding and we are looking at transparency and equity, then it actually implies that everybody should be affected equally and it's not just the big customers that are affected its small residential customers that are affected also."

Meanwhile, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown says there's still a long way to go to prevent the country from entering the total blackout stage.

"I think if take all the power stations, all the plants off the grid and eventually maintain all of them, we probably will get it right."

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.

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.

Click here to view Eskom's load shedding schedule.

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