Cape Town - There is just about enough electricity to survive next week as the country revs up again with businesses and big industries getting into gear.

But the lights might still go out, warns Eskom.

The utility yesterday issued a statement as most holidaymakers were preparing to return to work.

Eskom spokesman Andrew Etzinger warned that in the coming weeks the reserve margin would be low and the grid would be vulnerable to load shedding.

“Next week things return to normal and there will be vulnerability,” he said.

“We have secured funding for our gas turbines to run for January but there will be pressure on the grid.

“Our reserve margin is low and there remains a risk of loadshedding. But the underlying issues to the power problems are different now. In 2008, load shedding related to power availability at power stations. This time it’s about the high number of generation plants that are out for technical problems.”

He said the two-week holidays had allowed the utility to undertake short-term maintenance without which the situation would have been worse.

“The fact that we can only undertake short-term maintenance does underline the dilemma we have at the moment.”

Eskom board chairman Zola Tsotsi admitted the utility was starting the new year with the pressing problems of an ageing fleet with high maintenance requirements, growing electricity demand and financial issues.

“Significant progress is being made at Eskom’s new build projects – Medupi, Kusile, Ingula and Sere,” he said.

“These are pivotal to continuity of supply of electricity and enabling access to electricity to those who currently do not have access.

“Some significant steps have been taken during 2014 to make sure that although Eskom starts the year with pressing challenges, these challenges are met with robust, multipronged strategies to ensure an Eskom that is operationally and financially sustainable,” Tsotsi said.

Meanwhile leading economist Dawie Roodt has warned that last month’s power blackouts, which crippled many businesses at the time of the year when they should have been booming, will have an impact on the retail sales figures that will be released later this month.

Businesses still counting the costs in the new year include retailers, small and medium enterprises, big industrial concerns, banks, shopping malls and food outlets.

“We can expect very weak economic growth in 2015 but the Eskom power problem won’t be the only variable contributing to this,” said Roodt.

“We have a problem of debt level which is exacerbated by lack of electricity. I have calculated, however, that today our production uses 20 percent less electricity than it did before 2008.”

Roodt said the industries most likely to be significantly affected by the power crisis were mining, construction and manufacturing but the impact on retail sales would not be so significant. - Thabiso Thakali for the Weekend Argus