Jan electricity consumption down 4.1% y/y

By Helmo Preuss

SA electricity consumption (available for distribution) fell by 4.1% year on year (y/y) in January‚ its eleventh consecutive month of y/y decline‚ Statistics SA (Stats SA) data showed on Thursday.

There was a 2.6% decline in electricity consumption last year‚ which resulted in gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowing to 2.5% in 2012 from 3.5% in 2011 as the state-owned electricity utility Eskom bought back power from ferroalloy producers.

These power buybacks have been extended into 2013 as the margin available generating capacity and peak demand on most weekdays is less than 5% compared with the international norm of 15%.

The margin between available capacity and peak demand of 31‚438 Megawatts (MW) on February 21 for instance was only 365MW or 1.1% and on February 28 it was only 708MW or 2.2%. This is equivalent to just more than one modern 600MW coal-fired generator.

Electricity production was down 3.0% y/y in January 2013 and fell by 1.8% in 2012 as Eskom battles with an ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations. The first unit of the new Medupi power station was due to come online towards the end of this year‚ but an industrial dispute lasting more than seven weeks has put this deadline in doubt.

That is why Eskom has asked consumers to cut their electricity consumption by 10%.

According to the World Bank Enterprise Survey 2011‚ Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is one of the main regions where firms identify electricity supply as a major constraint. SSA is also the region with the highest percentage of electricity provided by generators. Deficiencies in energy infrastructure occur in electricity production‚ transmission and distribution.

The Western Cape‚ Northern Cape and Mpumalanga were the only provinces to show a y/y increase in consumption in January 2013.