As South Africa moves closer to the one-year anniversary of permanent load shedding, 2023 has already seen the country sitting in the dark for longer than the last 10 years combined.
The latest Power Availability Statistics (PAS) compiled by independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan shows that at the end of week 33 of the year (ending 18 August 2023), South Africa has experienced a combined total of 1,296 blackout hours – equivalent to 54 full days of no power.
For context on just how bad that is, between 2014 and 2022, the country experienced the equivalent of 53 days of blackout hours combined, making 2023 worse than the last decade for load shedding.
While South Africans typically track total load shedding hours to gauge the severity of the outages, the fact that the country has been in a near-permanent state of load shedding since September 2022 makes it difficult to tell how bad things are.
This is because load shedding stages vary greatly. A full day of stage 1 load shedding and a full day of stage 6 load shedding will show the same total hours of load shedding (24 hours), even though the latter is significantly worse.
Jordaan’s data thus looks at load shedding in terms of blackout hours – the time South Africans actually spend without any power within a load shedding window.
So while South Africans have seen 5,000 hours of load shedding this year, around 1,300 hours (26%) have been spent in blackouts.
According to Jordaan’s projections, the official worst year of load shedding on record is far from over, with another 31 full days of blackouts projected for the remainder of the year.
One positive to take away, however, is that the projected total has been easing in recent weeks, from a projected 88 days at the start of August to 85 days.
This glimmer of good news comes with a major caveat, though.
According to Jordaan, South Africans need to brace themselves for load shedding to potentially get worse in the coming months as the country leaves the winter period and gears up for warmer weather.
Winter load shedding surprised the country and Eskom, where the projected massive gaps in demand weren’t fully realised. Not only did the country not enter stage 8 load shedding as many experts had warned, but blackouts were suspended for significant periods.
This is because colder weather improved power plant performance, inclement weather boosted wind energy generation, and major industries reduced demand on account of higher winter fees.
The end of winter is likely to bring the opposite, Jordaan warned.
“South Africans should enjoy the current respite, for the winter season that ends on 1 September will bring renewed demand from large consumers as lower summer electricity tariffs kick in,” he said.
“In addition, the low winter temperatures that boosted output at the thermal (coal) plants will also start to climb. These factors, combined with diesel delivery constraints, sparked a major power crisis in September last year.”
September 2022 marked the start of “permanent” load shedding in South Africa, where the aforementioned constraints sent Eskom into a spin.
While politicians have talked up the current performance of the power utility and sparked hope for a better power situation heading into the end of the year, the reality is that power output is still far from hitting previous levels, let alone improving enough to meet demand.