New load shedding stages for South Africa being finalised

 ·5 May 2023

The National Rationalised Specifications (NRS) Association of South Africa says that it is in the final stages of revising South Africa’s load shedding guidelines, bringing specifics for load shedding beyond stage 8 closer to reality.

The NRS is a voluntary forum of organisations formed to collaborate and develop voluntary industry specifications to standardise equipment specifications across the South African Electricity Supply Industry.

The group is a key body involved with developing and compiling the NRS 048-9 Code of Practice – the code or regulation that essentially governs load shedding.

According to NRS chair, Vally Padaychee, the group is currently in the process of revising edition two of the code, which will see the current load shedding stages expanded.

“Edition two only goes up to stage 8, after which emergency contingency measures need to be put in place. We’re in the final stages of revising edition two to accommodate increased levels of load shedding, which I think any pragmatic, professional person can’t overrule, given the state of the national grid,” he said.

The NRS is reportedly ready to submit the revised code to Nersa in the coming days.

“What we’ve sought to do with revision three is to take away the emergency contingency measure regime – because when we reach that level, beyond stage 8, the propensity to make errors is there.”

He said scheduling load shedding beyond stage 8 would make sure that any outages outside the current plan can happen with a plan and safely protect the grid. He said the goal is to protect the national grid and avoid a total blackout scenario, and load shedding is an excellent tool to do this.

“To go beyond stage 8, even with all its inconveniences and impact to the economy, is a rationalised, technically accepted methodology to avoid a blackout.”

How the load shedding specifications work

The NRS 048-9 Code of Practice is primarily an electricity utility-driven and executed document that derives its mandate and authority, once approved by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), as part of the Electricity Regulations Act.

The code that will soon come into effect is NRS 048-9, Edition 3.

When the first edition of the NRS048-9 code was established in 2010, load shedding stages were capped at Stage 4 – representing 25% of the base load – requiring utilities to “find” electricity load under emergency conditions.

According to the NRS, ‘finding’ electricity with 75% of the load not being used was reasonably straightforward. However, attempting to do so beyond Stage 4 was not easy.

The need for Stage 6 load shedding in 2019 prompted the NRS 048-9 Work Group to consider extending the load shedding stages to manage load shedding to Stage 8 (Edition 2).

In stage 8 half the electricity load is shed, and the other half is waiting to be shed, it said. Under these conditions, it is generally much harder to “find” electricity load, it said.

Given the deterioration of Eskom’s grid and energy availability, it has now become prudent to plan even further ahead.

The group said the final NRS 048-9 Edition 3 will now provide a methodology for utilities to reduce the whole load base in a structured way. Ostensibly, this would provide for 16 stages of load shedding – although the final picture could look very different with other changes under consideration.

This also means that contingency plans for the unknown – ie, “what happens beyond stage 8” – can be dropped.

“Once all the load is used, there is no need for a contingency option,” it said.

The NRS stressed that just because the new load shedding schedules will extend beyond stage 8, it does not necessarily mean that the country will move beyond stage 8 – it’s just planning ahead.

“The public is assured that the need to plan for load shedding beyond Stage 8, and the removal of the associated contingency measures, is primarily a proactive measure to enable the various electricity utilities, especially Eskom, to be in a state of readiness and preparedness to respond in the event of and the need to – but hopefully not – institute load shedding beyond Stage 8 levels.

“Although the Association believes that NCC and SO have managed load shedding well, often under difficult circumstances, to keep as many of the lights on as possible, it feels that the proactive planning and preparation for load shedding at elevated stages will prevent errors from occurring,” it said.

Read: South Africa has spent an entire month in the dark

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