South Africa capacity plan includes pumped storage

South Africa’s electricity reserve margin is inadequate and could take five years to reach a comfortable level, the head of state utility Eskom told lawmakers.

Eskom Chief Executive Officer Thulani Gcabashe spoke to a parliamentary committee February 14, less than a month after power cuts darkened much of Africa’s economic powerhouse. He said the utility’s reserve margin was between 8 and 10 percent of capacity, about a third its 2001 mark.

“Ideally, it should be at the global benchmark of 15 percent,” Gcabashe told the Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee, according to SAPA news agency.

South Africa’s Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) issued a review of the security of power supply in February that said Eskom is accelerating development of pumped-storage projects, returning three mothballed power stations to service, commissioning combustion turbines, and promoting demand-side management to help improve the capacity situation.

�Eskom’s current capacity and transmission expansion plans include returning a number of mothballed power stations to service and the accelerated development of new pumped-storage hydroelectric schemes, with three new power stations in the plan,� DPE said.

In December, Eskom Holdings Ltd. took applications for pre-qualification for three civil works contracts to build the 1,333-MW Braamhoek pumped-storage project. (HNN 11/22/06) Final design for Braamhoek, in the Little Drakensberg Mountains northeast of Van Reenen, was in progress and scheduled for completion in 2007.

An adequate supply of reserve capacity enables electricity providers to meet unanticipated spikes in demand and perform routine maintenance that can disrupt normal power supplies. South Africa’s electricity reserves have been eroded by several years of unexpectedly strong economic growth, a doubling of Eskom’s customer base, and delayed construction of new power plants, Gcabashe said.

Analysts point to a lack of sustained long-term investment in power generation and low levels in hydroelectric reservoirs during the dry winter months as contributors to the country’s energy shortage. Hydroelectricity accounts for much of South Africa’s power supply.

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