Eskom is ‘over-shedding’ some cities in South Africa

 ·17 May 2023

The City of Cape Town reports that in some instances following high levels of load shedding, especially stage 6, Eskom ‘over-sheds’ and then suddenly moves to a lower stage to prevent system instability.

According to the city, the changes are so abrupt that it is impossible to communicate timeously. “Unfortunately, the city does not have control over this,” it said.

Beverley van Reenen, the city’s mayoral committee member for energy, said that the City of Cape Town is closely monitoring the Eskom situation and is noticing emerging trends caused by load shedding impacting neighbourhoods and adding to the pressures.

“There is a lot of pressure on our energy teams on the ground. Not only are the same teams doing all the load-shedding-related work in addition to the normal maintenance and repairs, but due to the long outages per day, the window in which to effect repairs has also been halved,” said Van Reenen.

The city has been able to stave off higher levels of load shedding in some cases thanks to its Steenbras hydropower plant.

“Once Eskom has declared a particular stage, and the City’s control room has been notified, the City demand is determined, and depending on the Eskom stage, how much protection the City is able to offer through its Steenbras Hydro Pumped Storage Scheme,” said Van Reenen.

On top of being over-shed, Van Reenen listed the following growing load shedding trends:

Overloading of the system due to peak-time demand spikes between 16h00 and 21h00

Geysers, pool pumps, uninterrupted power supplies and other electrical equipment left on when the power goes off for load-shedding all come back on at the same time when load-shedding is over – overloading the system so that some areas cannot be switched on at the same time.

When an electricity network trips, a physical inspection is also needed, which is time-consuming.

Protecting the grid by switching on in phases:

To prevent large area outages, the city is now switching power back on in phases, said Van Reenen.

This means the city is making full use of the switching window it has. As an example: shedding takes place between 20h00 and 22h00 with a window of approximately 30 minutes to switch everyone back on, provided it can be done without harming the power grid.

Increase in very short notice of load-shedding changes and many changes in a day

The city said that Eskom is giving very short notice to load shedding changes, even within hours, that the municipality is struggling to keep up with.

City protection stretched

At high load shedding stages, the city can often not provide relief as per lower stages.

Service requests spike and delays

Dealing with electricity faults often takes longer to repair than expected.

The city previously had a 24-hour window for repairs under normal circumstances, however, with higher levels of load shedding taking their toll – the window to bring things back up to speed has shrunk.

Storm-related damage on top of load-shedding-related outages places pressure on teams

Repair teams are no longer under the pressure of load shedding but also storm-related damage to power lines and other infrastructure.

Power surges damaging appliances

According to Van Reenen, when electrical appliances are not switched off prior to the power coming back on they are breaking due to power surges.

The city has, as a result, encouraged people to install power surge protectors on appliances.

Reduced planned maintenance

To avoid further inconvenience for the public and also due to the stretched capacity of our staff, planned maintenance is suspended during elevated levels of load-shedding, resulting in a build-up of the maintenance backlog.

Vandalism and theft increase

Load shedding is opening the window of opportunity for theft and vandalism in the city.

To combat this, the city of Cape Town is offering a R5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Cape Town efforts

The Western Cape hub has been standout in its approach to load shedding and has also been on a massive push to become ‘energy independent’. Under the mayor’s Energy Priority Programme to bring an end to load shedding, the city has made substantial progress in investment, including:

  • R220 million on embedded independent power purchase.
  • R288 million on the Power Heroes programme, which looks at voluntary power reduction in return for an incentive.
  • Estimate R1 billion investment in Steenbras (over the next nine years) subject to all due diligence and legal and regulatory processes.
  • R640 million on solar PV; R53 million Cash for Power programme, which involves selling excess power back to the city.
  • R50 million in Battery Storage.
  • R32 million on waste-to-energy .

Read: New delays at South Africa’s nuclear power station add to load shedding woes

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