204 days of load shedding – and counting

 ·23 Jun 2023

Cold weather and a lack of scheduled maintenance between June and August are giving South Africans a chance to catch their breath from months of record-high levels of load shedding – but the crisis is far from over, experts say.

South Africa has experienced load shedding for 173 days in 2023, with only one day fully suspended.

Load shedding has been implemented on a near-permanent basis since September 2022, counting 204 days in the current cycle, with only three days in total (two in October and one in March) where outages were fully suspended.

The graphic below, from the Outlier shows the amount of load shedding days in 2022 and 2023:

Speaking to CapeTalk, energy analyst Clyde Mallinson said that South Africans used to experience an average of stage 3 load shedding, with a handful peaks at 5 or 6 earlier this year.

Now, however, consumers are seeing load shedding suspended during the day, “only” to spike up to stage 3 or 4 in the evenings.

The reasons for the eased load shedding are rooted in several beneficial conditions.

  • Better plant performance due to colder weather;
  • Increased wind energy production due to stormy weather in the Cape;
  • A reduction of planned maintenance by Eskom, typical for this period;
  • Lower than anticipated demand from consumers.

Mallison said that the coal fleet is operating better than in the summer months, even though there is more demand for heating during the day. He said that the demand due to the cold is short-lived.

The energy expert added that Eskom’s power stations have severe problems with cooling, and during the cold months, they perform better – which provides a welcome boost when the plants need it most.

He said that a lack of planned maintenance does not mean the company is putting off important maintenance. It is standard practice for the company to restrict maintenance during this period.

Giving further good news, Mallinson said that Eskom is not burning as much diesel, noting that it has not been relying on diesel as much as it was earlier in the year.

On 31 May, the National Treasury said that Eskom had spent R21.4 billion in the 12 months through March 2023, compared with R10 billion the year prior.

This was due to the power utility relying heavily on open-cycle gas turbines that are only designed to be run as a backup during peak-demand periods.

Less severe and frequent load shedding comes following various warnings from energy analysts, politicians and Eskom itself that load shedding could reach stage 8 in the winter months.

The electricity minister in April, before the start of the cold front, said that it would be an exceptionally difficult winter.

“We know that in summer conditions, the deficit is 6,000 megawatts. When we go into winter, the peak can go up to 37,000 megawatts,” he said.

This, however, is not the case, with demand reaching as low as 29,000 MW compared to the expected peak.

Currently, load-shedding schedules are more accommodating for everyday South Africans, suspended until 16h00 in the afternoon, after which it continues until midnight.

Not out the woods yet

While the current situation reads as good news in the short-term, energy expert, Chris Yelland says it comes with the caveat that the situation can change at any point, with low levels of load shedding not guaranteed to stick.

Yelland noted that while there has been some improvement in recent weeks, the company’s energy availability factor (EAF) is still 4.5 percentage points lower than the EAF recorded during the same week last year. This indicates a continuing downward trend in Eskom’s EAF compared to the corresponding period in 2022.

As of 16 June, the Eskom EAF is currently around 59%, and international groups like ratings firm Moody’s have cast doubt on whether the country will meet its targets of 65% EAF by March 2024 and 70% by March 2025.

Because South Africans had adapted to almost nine full months of high stages of load shedding, the daytime suspension feels like a full shift.

However, the current energy situation is still worse than the same time last year, Yelland said – and load shedding is still being implemented every day.

Read: Eskom signs new agreement with the Netherlands to help in the move away from coal

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