Businesses in and around Umhlanga say they are taking a hammering because of sporadic power outages in the area, at a time when the tills should be ringing with school holiday traffic. Photo: Jennifer Bruce

South Africans face a power crunch next year - and again in 2018 - unless energy-saving measures are stepped up.

The gap between supply and demand during peak hours in 2012 was expected to amount to a year’s power supply to Cape Town, or nine terrawatt hours, Eskom told the National Assembly energy and public enterprises committees on Tuesday.

“We may not see the lights going out, but there is risk … We need support and there’s a role for every customer to play,” Eskom operation and planning division MD Kanna Lakmeeharan said. “We are now in the tight period we said would happen … The things we do in the next two years will support us.”

Eskom can produce a maximum of just over 41 000 megawatts, but the demand during winter, particularly in July, rises to around 38 500MW, leaving a safety margin of less than the internationally recommended 15 percent.

In 2018, when the additional generating capacity of just over 10 000MW from the Medupi and Kusile coal-based electricity plants and the Ingula pump power station in KwaZulu-Natal would be fully online, domestic demand would have increased.

By 2030, an additional 40 800MW would be needed.

Eskom told MPs it was time to make plans for adding capacity from 2018, including decisions on nuclear power and the role and weighting of green power like solar and wind.

The focus would fall on the safety net – through energy-saving, demand management, a greater use of gas turbines and load shedding and the installation of solar water geysers.

Eskom told MPs it would do its bit through plant maintenance and getting the 500 largest users, predominately companies, to implement a 10 percent saving target. Independent power producers and the metropolitan councils with their own capacity would also be important. However, municipalities’ role in electricity supply presented a major challenge. - Political Bureau