New low for load shedding in South Africa

 ·2 Aug 2023

Despite some load shedding relief in June and early July, Eskom’s outage pattern is getting worse, with South Africans again experiencing a full week of permanent load shedding for the first time in nine weeks.

The latest Power Availability Statistics from independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan shows that the week ending 28 July 2023 saw South Africa back to mid-levels of load shedding (averaging stage 4) after managing to see weeks of lower stages and frequent suspensions of load shedding during the day.

The turn in power availability is largely down to the inclement weather that has hit the country in the last few weeks, pushing up demand.

Looking at the longer-term view, however, Jordaan’s data shows that – barring a few ‘bumps’ of improvement along the way – South Africa’s power situation has continued to decline and hit a new low at the end of July.

Power availability has deteriorated to an average of 79% over the past 12 months – meaning that the country has effectively been in permanent stage 3 load shedding for the past year, when averaged out.

While South Africa has long hit its worst point on record for metrics like total hours of load shedding in effect (currently 4,545 hours), Jordaan’s data looks at more impactful points like blackout hours and the Power Availability Ratio (PAR) of the grid.

The blackout hours represent the actual time the average South African spends in the dark – excluding the times that load shedding is ‘in effect’ but waiting around for it to hit.

PAR, meanwhile, 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 first time, every longer-term measure of PAR – the monthly average (PAR-28), quarterly average (PAR-91) and yearly average (PAR-364) – have all converged at around 79%.

“It means that South Africa’s power availability has stagnated at around stage 3 – or 5 hours of outages per day – over the medium and long terms,” Jordaan said.

Over the past week (PAR-7), the average has ticked higher to around stage 4, he said.

The most notable point in the data is that the yearly view has reached a new low. The last time the country came close to hitting that point was after the worst-ever month of load shedding in May 2023.

As the measure is a moving average, the picture is also about to get much worse.

While June and July 2022 were particularly bad months for load shedding that year – thanks to the illegal strike by Eskom workers and the subsequent struggle to get things back on track – August was a relatively calm month.

However, early September marked the start of South Africa’s “permanent” load shedding, with the country only escaping outages for three full days since then (two in October 2022 and one day in March 2023).

To turn the tide on load shedding, Eskom needs to significantly improve its power availability – either by improving generation and EAF, or by reducing demand.

The former is not easy. While the group anticipates improved EAF in the coming months – along with the welcome return of generating units at Kusile – it still faces challenges with unit breakdowns and delays.

On the demand side, the power utility has been issuing alerts to the public this past week, urging them to manage power demand so that higher stages of load shedding can be avoided.

However, demand data for Tuesday (1 August) shows that the call is not being heeded, with the embattled utility recording demand of over 33,000MW, versus its supply of 28,700MW.

According to Eskom’s own outlook and risk profile, this demand is already higher than what it has planned for.

Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has assured the country that projects are underway to add more capacity to the grid, but the reality is that these added megawatts are still two or three years away from coming online.

In the meantime, Eskom is constantly battling outages slips, unit trips, breakdowns and a host of other problems that threaten to push the country into a deeper load shedding crisis.

Eskom sees the situation improving slightly by the end of the year – but the path ahead is still full of red.

Eskom Status Report Week 29

Read: 25 projects underway to resolve load shedding in South Africa

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