The Cabinet called on South African households and industry to do more to save electricity on Thursday as heavy rains across the country compelled power utility Eskom to resort to rotational load-shedding for the first time in six years.
"The grid has enough capacity, but due to the heavy rains across the country, especially in Mpumalanga, where we source most of our coal, it has left coal stocks wet and this has put unexpected strain on our energy system, which is already close to capacity," Acting Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Edna Molelwa told a journalists following a Cabinet meeting in Pretoria on Thursday.
State-owned supplier Eskom, which produces about 85% of its electricity from coal, started load shedding at 9am on Thursday. This was expected to affect numerous parts of the country up until about 10pm.
Eskom had earlier declared a power emergency, asking its industrial customers reduce use by 10%. The utility will publish its load-shedding schedule online at loadshedding.eskom.co.za.
"We have not received information that the cuts will have a negative [impact] on the economy," Molewa said. "The rain will subside and we will return to normality."
The Cabinet thanked South African businesses that had implemented energy-saving initiatives, particularly when the national grid has been under pressure.
Tuesday's power emergency was the fourth one since November 2013, underlining the urgency of a growing energy deficit as economic growth and population expansion put increasing pressure on South Africa's power supply.
While capacity expansion has not kept pace with demand, two new coal-fired power plants - Medupi and Kusile - are nearing completion. Each will add 4 800 MW to South Africa's grid, making them among the largest power stations in the world. Medupi is expected to be ready in late 2014, followed by Kusile soon after.
Alongside the planned long-term expansion in capacity, Eskom has sought to slow demand growth, calling upon both retail and corporate customers to reduce their consumption, especially during peak demand hours.
The government has also announced plans to provide tax incentives to companies that initiate measures to reduce consumption.
- SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter