Big load shedding ‘bounce’ for South Africa

 ·4 Jul 2023

The turn in fortunes for load shedding in South Africa over the past month has delivered a welcome ‘bounce’ in the country’s power availability data – showing the most optimistic move in generation over the last 364 days.

The latest Power Availability Statistics, compiled by independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, shows that the country’s PAR-364 – a measure of actual power availability over a 12-month period – has turned from a declining trend to a more positive direction.

While South Africans more commonly use total hours of load shedding to gauge how bad outages are in the country, Jordaan’s data looks at more impactful points like blackout hours (i.e., actual time spent in the dark) and the Power Availability Ratio (PAR) of the grid.

PAR represents the time consumers have utility power available after deducting the load shedding outage times, expressed as a percentage. At 100%, households have full access to grid power. Every 7% below that point represents a full stage of load shedding where power is taken away.

For the 26th week of the year – also marking the end of June – the PAR-7 (one-week view) has continued the slow, stepped descent that started towards the end of last week.

“Three to four stages of lower than expected peak demand – approximately 29 GW – has helped to keep load shedding around an average of stage 1 for the past four weeks,” Jordaan said.

“However, small weekly deteriorations were seen over the last three weeks,” he noted, adding that PAR has slipped from 93% in week 24 to 91% in week 26, indicating a slight loss in power availability.

Month on month, however, there has been a vast improvement.

The PAR-28 (monthly view) recovered sharply since the end of May – from PAR 67% – a monthly record low – to 89% in at the end of June, an increase of 22 percentage points.

“June suffered only 34 outages – average stage 1.5; 2.6 hr/day – a third of the 109 outages – average stage 4.7; 7.9 hr/day – recorded in May,” he said.

As a result of the improved conditions in June, the PAR-364 (annual review) benefited and bounced from 79.64% to end week 26 on 80.03% – “the most optimistic move over the past 364 days,” the analyst said.

Notably, June 2023 marks the one-year mark since load shedding escalated to record levels for the first time.

South Africa was pushed to stage 6 load shedding for the first time in years following unprotected strikes by Eskom workers in June 2022.

Load shedding escalated in June and July before stabilising slightly in late July and August. However, outages escalated severely at the start of September 2022, whereafter the country plunged into a near-permanent state of load shedding that persists today.

Despite catching a break from load shedding during the day, outages still continue daily in the evenings. The country has only been spared from load shedding for three full days since the escalation in September.

Because the analysis of power availability is retrospective, there’s no guarantee that South Africa’s luck with load shedding will last.

Electricity Minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, said that the recent reduction in load-shedding is due to South Africa boosting its generation to over 29,900 megawatts, with demand at around 30,000 megawatts.

“Electricity generation is now beginning to keep up with demand,” he said, adding that with additional generating capacity expected to come online before the end of the year, the end to daily outages is in sight.

However, despite the rosy outlook, energy expert Professor Mark Swilling said South Africa would likely go back into stage four and stage six load-shedding in the near future and before the end of winter as conditions shift.

Swilling said the lower load-shedding stages South Africa has experienced over the past few weeks are due to a combination of unique conditions that the country should not expect to last forever – such as big industries cutting demand due to higher tariffs, fewer unplanned breakdowns, lower planned maintenance and higher-than-expected output from wind generation.

This warning has been echoed by other sectors as well, with the Reserve Bank (SARB) also noting in a report this week that energy generation is unlikely to meet demand sustainably until at least midway through 2024.

Aside from improving generation from existing plants, new energy generation – of which at least 10GW is needed, according to Swilling – will still take time to come online.

Read: It’s too late for 2023 – Reserve Bank shifts load shedding hopes to next year

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