Warning over ‘stage 10’ load shedding – and what it means for South Africa

 ·17 Jan 2023

Energy expert at Hohm Energy, Matthew Cruise, says that South Africa is likely to hit beyond stage 8 load shedding, warning that, contrary to promises from the national government, the power crisis in the country is unlikely to abate any time soon.

Speaking to 702 on Tuesday (17 January), Cruise said that there is a 50% likelihood that South Africa will hit stage 8 load shedding in some form or another from July, as the country moves into its winter peak.

“In July, we have our winter peak demand that takes place, and demand on the grid is between 32,000 and 34,000 megawatts,” he said.

Currently, summer demand on the grid is between 26,000 and 28,000MW, and this is already not being met by Eskom, with the country being thrust into high levels of load shedding, including non-stop stage 6 load shedding for almost a full week.

“Just by nature of seasonality, there will be an extra 4,000 MW that will be demanded by the nation that will be unmet,” Cruise said. ” If you add that to the current levels of load shedding, it’s clear we’re going to go to stage 8 and beyond – even so far as stage 10.”

“Stage 10 is definitely a distinct possibility,” he said.

Eskom’s official load shedding stages only go as high as stage 8. At stage 8 load shedding, 8,000MW is shed from the national grid, resulting in up to 14 hours of blackouts a day. This is what municipalities have had a plan for since 2018 when the schedules were revised.

As of January 2023, load shedding has only ‘officially’ hit stage 6 – but economists have argued that the reality of the situation is that the country has already moved beyond that level when considering load curtailment and the agreements in place for big industries to switch off during emergencies.

According to Cruise, while stage 8 was given to consumers and municipalities as the maximum the country could get to when the schedules were rejigged in 2018, in reality, the stages are completely arbitrary.

“There’s no other reason why it was set to stage 8 specifically – as if there is an upper limit. It was arbitrary,” he said.

Theoretically, South Africa could go up to stage 20 load shedding, if that’s how much power is removed from the grid, Cruise said.

“Each stage represents 1,000MW, so if we were unable to serve 20,000MW of power, that would be ‘stage 20’,” he said.

“What would happen if that (stage 20) were to take place? All loads representing load to the grid would be removed from the grid so that it could be maintained and the power stations could continue to power the lines and each other.

“They would move to an idling state where they could power the power stations and keep the lines active,” he said.

Eskom previously explained that if capacity issues go beyond stage 8, it is currently up to the System Operator to make specific determinations, per province, for how much additional power needs to be pulled from the grid.

Energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard has also given a more detailed explanation of what blackout conditions would look like and what South Africa would need to do to protect the grid.

However, Eskom stressed said that load shedding is used as a last resort to prevent a nationwide blackout.

If South Africa were to suffer a complete blackout, the country would be left in the dark for weeks.

“If preventative measures, including load shedding, are insufficient – the national grid will collapse. A blackout is unforeseen, and therefore, the System Operator will not be able to make an announcement in advance,” Eskom said.

“A national blackout will have massive implications, and every effort is made to prevent this from occurring. Depending on the nature of the emergency, it could take a few weeks for the grid to recover from a blackout.”

According to Cruise, it is unlikely that a South Africa-wide blackout would take place for at least the next three years.

“But I do see us going above stage 8 load shedding – because it’s just an arbitrary level,” he said. “And I don’t see it getting better next year or the year after that, unfortunately.”

Read: South Africa faces 10 more years of blackouts: study

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