From bad to worse: Load shedding vs blackout hours in South Africa

 ·17 Apr 2023

It’s only halfway through April 2023, and South Africa has already experienced as much load shedding (hours) as almost the entirety of 2022 – and the number of hours of blackouts you experience is worse than ever before.

These are some of the latest findings from independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan in his weekly National Blackout Statistics for South Africa.

The current data around load shedding is already a horror show of numbers: the country has experienced load shedding for all but one day of the year so far, totalling 106 days. This is quickly eating up the estimated 250 days expected by the South African Reserve Bank, and more than half the 207 days of load shedding experienced in 2022.

In total hours, load shedding has been in effect for 2,442 hours of the year so far, quickly chasing down the 3,776 hours recorded in 2022, according to EskomSePush.

According to Jordaan, however, while the metrics used to track load shedding point to the country on the way to beating records set in 2022, the reality of the situation is already far worse.

The analyst noted that the actual hours of load shedding outages experienced – which he terms ‘blackout hours per day’ – have already far surpassed those in 2022.

Because the country has been in a near-permanent stage of load shedding all year, the rotation time – the active hours of load shedding, not necessarily blackouts – is also close to the 24-hour mark.

Jordaan’s data shows that load-shedding rotations have been in effect for an average of 22.9 hours every day so far in 2023. However, the actual blackout time South Africans have experienced is around 6.2 hours of every day.

This is compared to the 2.3 hours of blackouts experienced in 2022, against the rotational time of 10.4 hours each day.

Put another way, more than a quarter (26%) of each day in 2023 has been spent without any power this year so far, compared to just 10% in 2022, and 2.1% in 2021.

According to Jordaan’s data, the average South African has experienced just over 655 hours of total blackouts this year so far – equivalent to 27.3 full days of outages. While the total experienced in 2022 was higher (34.6 days), it took a full year to reach that point.

Not only are South Africans experiencing blackout hours more frequently, they are happening for longer (4 hour blocks at stage 6), and the country is already nearing the 2022 year-end figure after three and a half months.

Worse still to come

Because the data works with means (averages), the situation could very well change with a significant improvement in the country’s generating capacity. However, this is unlikely to happen.

In fact, all indications and warnings from energy experts, analysts and even the minister of electricity is that worse lies ahead.

According to public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, Eskom is currently unable to reliably produce 23,000MW of energy. Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has warned that, in the coming winter months, power demand is likely to spike up to 35,000 to 37,000MW.

With vast energy shortfalls anticipated in the coming months, the figures depicted above are likely to only get worse.

Previous analysis from Jordaan pointed to another worrying trend.

The daily mean load shedding stage – or, the average stage for the day – has been increasing steadily since July 2022, when it closed at stage 4 for the first time. In 2023, the average stage of load shedding is at stage 4.

Plotting the averages over a medium-term load shedding trend – a 91 day moving average of the daily mean stage – shows that the load shedding mean is trending upwards and without any significant interventions, could break through stage 8 in August 2023.

If the trend continues, the country will break through the current load shedding tables.

Eskom has confirmed that it is currently in the process of revising its load shedding schedules, with the System Operator working with relevant authorities to review the regulations that govern load shedding.

While the makeup of the new stages are still to be determined, the current proposal is that the entire baseload is structured into stages (currently only 50%, up to stage 8), which implies room for up to 16 stages.

South Africa is getting new load shedding stages – with big changes for time slots also on the cards

Read: Eskom is running out of load shedding stages – fast

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