South Africa just hit a bleak load shedding milestone

 ·10 May 2023

After just 129 days, South Africa has been in the dark for as long as the entirety of 2022.

By 17h00 on 9 May 2023, the average South African had endured an accumulated 34.56 days of blackout time for 2023 – matching the previous record set by 2022.

The bleak milestone was reached in a shorter time and over fewer ‘load shedding’ hours.

While 2023 has only seen 2,971 hours of load shedding so far – versus 3,788 hours in 2022 – load shedding stages have been more intense, leading to longer periods in the dark.

According to independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, the intensity of blackouts in the country grew by 27.7% between 2022 and 2023, escalating from an average stage of 3.11 in 2022 to 3.98 currently.

To date, South Africans have spent 27% of the year without power (to 9 May), compared to 9.5% of 2022 (to end December).

The latest data compiled by Jordaan shows that the situation is likely to get worse.

While emergency diesel supply and some state interventions mitigated load shedding over certain periods, since the week ending 4 September 2022, electricity consumers have suffered blackouts for 35 weeks in a row.

Jordaan noted that load shedding eased just before the holiday season on 19 March 2023, bringing down the average of blackout hours experienced. However, most indicators have trended back towards the upper levels, suggesting that the effects of these interventions are starting to fade.

The relief gained by the Easter holidays and state interventions has been dissipated by the increased winter electricity demand, he said.

Looking at the daily averages of blackout hours experienced, the data shows that numbers have been flat, albeit at elevated levels. However, with Eskom pushing stage 6 load shedding for longer, this indicator will likely start pointing up once again.

“After correcting sharply towards its long-term trend over March 2023, the 91-day average blackout time indicator has since remained flat, hovering just above 6 hours. It confirms the trends shown previously,” Jordaan said.

“As a steady, lagging indicator, it should soon start to respond to the recent higher blackout rates, as signalled by the recent uptick in early May.”

Winter load shedding warning

Eskom is currently load shedding at stage 6, with no indication from the utility that outages will ease any time soon.

This paints a worrying picture for the country as it heads into the winter months, with cold weather already setting in.

South Africans have been flooded with warnings that load shedding will likely intensify over the coming months, with analysts and experts predicting a move beyond stage 6 – or worse, a move beyond stage 8.

Eskom has so far managed to avoid load shedding nationally beyond stage 6 through the use of load curtailement, where big power users are contractually required to cut a certain percentage of their total use.

Through this method, load shedding schedules have been kept at stage 6 despite the utility shedding the equivalent of stage 7 or stage 8 from the grid.

However, if the energy shortfall becomes significantly larger than what can be secured through curtailment, the utility will be forced to escalate load shedding nationally to protect the grid.

With concerns over load shedding as high as stage 10 abounding, groups are calling for answers.

Regulators are currently finalising a revision of load shedding stages in the country to make room for what happens after stage 8.

The Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa and acting CEO of Eskom, Calib Cassim, are expected to appear before the Western Cape’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Energy Crisis on 24 May 2023 to address concerns.

Meanwhile, Eskom is expected to deliver its winter assessment and forecast in the coming weeks.

Read: No load shedding for politicians talking shop

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