South Africa’s energy provider warns of longer power cuts this winter

Cars travel on a normally well-lit section of a freeway during a power outage in Johannesburg, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to hold an urgent meeting with his cabinet to discuss the country's electricity crisis amid unprecedented levels of nationwide power blackouts in Africa's most developed economy. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
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JOHANNESBURG, (Reuters) – South Africa’s state power utility Eskom may have to increase power cuts to an unprecedented level this winter, a company executive said on Thursday, as the country grapples with its worst power crisis on record.

Many households and businesses in Africa’s most industrialised economy are already facing scheduled electricity outages of more than 10 hours a day, largely due to breakdowns in Eskom’s ailing fleet of coal power stations.

The gap between supply and demand is expected to increase in the coming winter months as people turn on their heaters, putting additional pressure on the grid.

“This is going to be a very difficult winter,” said Eskom Group Executive for Transmission Segomoco Scheppers in a media briefing.

Eskom has not yet gone beyond “Stage 6” power cuts, which require 6,000 megawatts to be shed from the national grid. This winter it may move to “Stage 8”, Scheppers said, which would require up to 8,000 megawatts to be shed, translating to 16 hours of outages in a 32-hour cycle.

“Stage 8” is just one scenario that Eskom is preparing for if its interventions are not effective, he said, explaining that the power cuts are necessary in order to avoid grid collapse.

“The alternative, which is a blackout, is really a nightmare scenario because it is an uncontrolled situation where the whole country loses supply,” said Scheppers. The likelihood of this is very low, he added.

Power cuts have had a severe impact on South Africa’s economy, reducing GDP by about 5% in 2022, Eskom said.