13 February 2008
South Africans are currently saving more than the 10% reduction target in electricity consumption set by the government, and emergency measures will continue over the next six months to ensure a further drop in demand, says Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin.
Addressing the media in Cape Town on Monday, Erwin particularly thanked large industrial users, who draw the bulk of the supply from Eskom, for their assistance in meeting the targets.
Erwin added that emergency measures to reduce demand in electricity would continue for the next six months, to achieve the short-term reduction targets of between 3 000 megawatts and 4 000 megawatts.
In the longer term, he said South Africa would be sitting with a “tight” energy supply situation for the next four years, given the lead time involved in the construction of new power stations.
However, Erwin said that all contractual obligations made with investors would be honoured, adding that there would need to be greater planning and coordination when it came to new investments, especially when new projects required connections to the national electricity grid.
He added, however, that it would be some time before South Africa gave the go-ahead to new energy-intensive investments such as the aluminium smelter currently planned for the Coega Industrial Development Zone.
Increasing reserve margins
Erwin pointed out that South Africa was not alone in dealing with a tight energy supply, stating that almost all developing countries – and some industrialised nations – were also facing similar supply constraints.
“No one is sitting with an abundance of energy right at the moment,” he said.
The intention at the moment was to widen the country’s reserve margin – the difference between potential capacity and that in use at any given time – which currently stands at 8%, Erwin said, adding that more intensive demand-side management programmes could push that margin to 10%.
Over the longer term, demand-side efforts and supply-side interventions with a shorter lead time, such as the building of gas-fired turbines, would push the margin up to the 15% standard.
While the country was on track to seeing a better reserve margin of between 12% and 15% by 2010, Erwin said the National Energy Regulator called for a reserve margin of at least 16%.
He added that the team of “energy champions” announced by President Thabo Mbeki in his State of the Nation address last week would play a key role in explaining the actual situation of the country’s energy supply, especially in and around the major industrial centres, to international investors.
In the meantime, Erwin said that South Africa aims to double its overall capacity over the next 20 years by adding another 40 000 megawatts to the system.
Half of this additional capacity, he said, would be sourced from nuclear power, using both conventional nuclear power stations and the locally-developed Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) technology.
However, Erwin said it would be unlikely that the country would see a conventional power station coming on stream before 2015, though a smaller PBMR plant could be ready by as early as 2013.
As part of the country’s drive to source alternative, renewable, energy sources, Erwin pointed out a 100 MW wind-power station was under construction in the Cape, and that the performance of this plant would be closely evaluated to assess the potential contribution of this source of energy going forward.