Winter load shedding warning: From bad to worse – right back to bad

 ·4 May 2023

South Africa has been warned that winter load shedding is likely to be the worst on record – but load shedding won’t magically disappear once the worst is over, and Eskom’s resources are wearing thin.

As winter approaches, energy experts have warned that severe load shedding could hit new highs.

In winter, the daily peak electricity consumption increases from an average of 32,000MW in summer to 36,000MW. This is due to the extended use of electrical heating devices, lights, and geysers.

Researchers and analysts estimate that the power shortage during mid-winter will be 2,000MW more than in 2022. Therefore, there may be power outages of up to 8,000MW – the equivalent of stage 8 load shedding – on some days.

Others have given an even more bleak outlook, noting that demand could push up as high as 37,000MW, while Eskom is currently struggling to consistently generate 27,000MW, leaving a 10,000MW (stage 10) hole to be filled by load shedding.

According to the Democratic Alliance, the electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has suggested that one of the immediate proposals to stave off load shedding in the near-term is to use open-cycle gas turbines (OCGT) to supplement generating capacity from Eskom.

However, OCGTs are typically used as a temporary solution during maintenance or breakdowns and when there are supply issues from Eskom, the DA said. They are not intended to be a permanent solution.

This line of argument has also been repeated by energy regulator Nersa, which has limited Eskom’s diesel budget for energy generation for this exact reason.

The DA noted that to keep load shedding at a manageable level during the winter months, Eskom would need to use its entire proposed diesel budget for the financial year within six months – costing roughly R30 billion.

“When pressed on how Eskom would source more funds for diesel for the balance of the financial year, (Ramokgopa) suggested that a portion of the funds generated through the 18.65% electricity tariff increase could be used to fund diesel purchases,” said the DA.

“While it seems a feasible solution, it is deeply concerning that the tariff increase, which should be used for the upgrading and development of electricity infrastructure, would be used to buy diesel.”

From worse to bad

South Africa is currently gripped by stage 6 load shedding, with breakdowns remaining persistently high. As Eskom brings generating units back to services, those that have been carrying the load in the interim break down.

The DA added that sourcing funds for diesel after the winter ‘burning frenzy’ is another huge issue – and the utility will likely be asking for more money. This is on top of the more than R250 billion debt takeover from National Treasury, and billions more expected to paid over in debt relief for municipalities.

“While it is of some comfort that the minister is alert to and focused on the increased demand during winter – there are other seasons in a year,” the party said.

“We are currently in autumn, and load-shedding is lurching between stages, hitting stage 6 with regular monotony. It doesn’t help to limit the stages in winter only to be unable to mitigate for spring and summer, especially when we are looking at a depleted budget and limitations on the ability of the OCGTs to burn large quantities of diesel.

The DA said that Ramokqopa was grasping at straws, looking for solutions to the load shedding crisis.

The minister has faced backlash from multiple angles, with many noting that his overall energy plan is nothing new – OCGTs have often already been used when capacity is low.

Hugo Pienaar, chief economist at the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) at Stellenbosch University, said that the interventions proposed by Ramokgopa are not new and have been ongoing for years. He expressed frustration at the suggestions being presented as novel.

Pienaar said that little can be done in the short-term to address the country’s electricity deficit and improve load-shedding.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his latest weekly newsletter, said that Eskom is taking extra care to limit outages during winter when demand is expected to increase.

“As we enter the winter months when our consumption of electricity rises, we will need to manage our use of electricity.”

He called on consumers to contribute to lowering demand by switching off home appliances and things such as geysers during peak times.

Read: How government is scoring big from load shedding

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter