Cape Town - Eskom says it would take up to two weeks for the power system to recover following a nationwide blackout.
And with the grid already taking major strain, analysts and residents fear what might happen if SA was plunged into darkness.
The utility says loadshedding is implemented to avoid such a blackout.
Speaking to journalists in Johannesburg, Eskom group executive for sustainability Steve Lennon said : “The entire country’s blackout recovery time is two weeks, assuming everything goes smoothly.”
Unlike other countries, SA does not have the luxury of tapping into the power system of its neighbours, if such a blackout were to occur. These countries aren’t large enough to meet our power requirements.
“We would have to rely on our own black-start plant to start the system from scratch. We are not ready for that at all. We also have to prepare for blackouts because if we don’t, the consequences will be severe.”
The power provider’s national control manager A’Louise van Deventer said the country’s power system might be under strain but it was manageable.
“As winter is not entirely over, we are still experiencing high demand, especially between 5.30pm and 6.30pm.
“The power system is tight and it will be for some time. We need to make sure we manage it well.”
Most of this demand stems from industrial, commercial and residential users. Planned blackouts were initiated by the parastatal to avoid a system collapse, which would have seen the whole country without electricity – which could take longer than two weeks to restore.
Labour analyst Michael Bagraim said he hoped the “two-week blackout” was just talk.
He said the boom of investment in the mid-1990s had been driven by South Africa’s stable infrastructure. The potential of a “crippling” blackout would ruin the country, he added.
“You may as well write us off.”
However, Eskom does have some alternative power sources, which are tapped into when the demand for electricity increases.
Van Deventer said the company had used open-cycle gas turbine power stations in the past. They were often used to provide power during peak hours, when there was a lot of strain on the system. There were also a few renewable energy sources.
“But we are unable to rely on them during peak hours as their output is not reliable.”
The company said it would continue to implement load shedding to manage the strain on the system and to avoid a nationwide blackout.
Van Deventer said demands on the system could be accurately predicted, based on consumption records.
But even that had its shortcomings, since the predictions could easily be upset by weather changes or socio-economical events such as sports events and industrial strikes.
The parastatal urged users to co-operate when asked to reduce power use because it would prevent further power cuts.
Table View Community Policing Police Forum spokeswoman Gemma Redelinghuys said a two-week blackout was a “recipe for disaster”.
With streetlights out, many roads could quickly become crime hot spots as criminals hid in the shadows.
“We’ve seen it before with some guys even hiding in bushes in gardens. This is why we advise everyone to have their homes well-lit.”
Back-up batteries for alarm systems would run out in a few days.
* Meanwhile, municipalities around the country owe the power provider billions. Co-operative Governance Minister Pravin Gordhan said by the end of June, Eskom was owed R10.8 billion.
He was responding to a question which was posed in Parliament by Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa.
In a statement posted on the party’s website, Hlengwa said the amounts owed were shocking and worrisome.
“The department is engaging with all parties concerned to find a constructive solution to the challenge,” Gordhan said this week in a written reply to the question.
The biggest debtor was City Power in Joburg which owed Eskom R1.075bn. “KwaZulu-Natal municipalities owed R1.27bn, Limpopo municipalities collectively owed R314 million, Mpumalanga municipalities owed R135m, North West owed R764m, Northern Cape municipalities owed R225m, and Western Cape municipalities owed R1.27bn.”
Further, the Ekurhuleni metro owed R972,339, the City of Tshwane metro R793,000, the Nelson Mandela Bay metro R292m, the Buffalo City metro R128m, the eThekwini metro R813m, the Msunduzi municipality R146m, and the City of Cape Town metro owed R873m.”