South Africa’s demand-supply situation has once again tightened and the country faces a real risk of rolling blackouts like those experienced in 2008, according to a new report from an inter-ministerial committee.

The Medium Term Risk Mitigation Plan for Electricity in South Africa – 2010 to 2016 has been published by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Energy and indicates that rolling blackouts should be expected between 2011 and 2016 unless extraordinary steps are taken.

The report was released alongside a long-term electricity master plan known as the Integrated Resource Plan 2010 (IRP2010), in which the government proposes that South Africa’s reliance on coal-fired electricity generation should be drastically reduced and replaced by nuclear baseload capacity and renewable energy.

The long-term outline for South Africa’s energy mix is designed to give investors an indication of the shape of South Africa’s electricity sector over the next 20 years. It shows how electricity demand is likely to evolve and what the cost would be of meeting that demand.

In the draft integrated resource plan, the department is proposing that coal contribute 48 per cent to the energy mix by 2030, followed by renewable energy (16 per cent), nuclear (14 per cent), peaking open cycle gas turbine (9 per cent), peaking pump storage (6 per cent), mid-merit gas (5 per cent) and baseload import hydro (2 per cent).

According to the government’s analysis of the medium term, the greatest areas of risk include the availability factor of national utility Eskom’s generating fleet, and delays in bringing two new major coal-fired plants on-line.

Major steps in energy efficiency and the realization of non-Eskom power plant projects need to be taken, says the Medium Term Risk Mitigation Plan, if blackouts are to be avoided.

South Africa suffered a series of major rolling blackouts in late 2007 and early 2008, and the government fears that a repeat of the situation will harm the country’s economic recovery.

Coal currently accounts for 90 per cent of electricity generation and nuclear six per cent.