South Africa just hit a very bleak load shedding record

 ·27 Nov 2023

Following stage 6 load shedding over the weekend and the new stage3/stage 4 rotational schedule for the week ahead, South Africa has now suffered more than double the blackouts experienced in the whole of 2022.

According to the latest blackout statistics compiled by independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, at the end of week 47 (ending 26 November 2023), the country had accumulated 69.2 days of cumulative blackouts.

This is the average time a South African has spent without electricity in 2023 so far – averaging around 5 hours a day.

In 2022, the country experienced 34.6 days of blackouts. This was already surpassed on 9 May 2023.

According to Jordaan, week 47 ended on 69 days of blackouts, but given that load shedding is still in full effect, by noon (12h00) on Monday (27 November), the country will have passed the double blackout mark.

“The load shedding levels announced for Monday, 27 November, will add seven hours to the meter, which means that the second milestone for 2023 is set to be reached shortly after noon.

“The recent power crisis episode has also increased the projection for the whole of 2023 to 76.3 days, or 1831 blackout hours. It is the first time in two months that the weekly projection has gained time,” Jordaan said.

The recent spate of stage 6 load shedding (and the continued stage 3 and stage 4) are also reversing the positive trends seen in recent months.

The weekly (7-day) blackout trend climbed 12.0 points, ending the week at 29.0%, moving the trendline in the wrong direction.

The quarterly (91-day) trend also rose visibly, (1.2 points to 14.9%) to above the stage 2-mark, after spending the prior fortnight just below the mark.

“The trend line is closing in on the long-term trend; intersecting it would undo the gradual relief felt over the last six months,” Jordaan said.

The annual (364-day) blackout trend also firmed on this week’s data by climbing 0.2 points and keeping above the stage 3-mark at 21.3%.

According to Jordaan, the latest crisis that led to stage 6 load shedding was precipitated by the delayed return of many of Eskom’s coal-fired generating units to service.

“The utility tried to compensate for these baseload losses by the extensive utilisation of its Open Cycle Gas Turbine peaking units, depleting its diesel stocks and also its main safety margin,” he said.

The analyst noted that the apparent political pressure exerted on the system operator to “keep the lights on” or “keep load shedding below stage 4”, has had unintended and negative consequences.

“For safety reasons, load shedding should not be a last resort when the reserves are depleted – it should be used when indicated to protect the reserves from depletion,” he said.

Minister in the presidency for electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has gone to great lengths to try and assure the public that Stage 6 load shedding was a blip in Eskom’s grand turnaround, and that the system is improving.

However, none of the data around the power utility’s plant performance actually supports this view.

Breakdowns have entrenched above 30%, energy availability has regressed to around 54%, and planned maintenance is only barely keeping up with historic trends. Much of the relief experiences has been due to lower demand, rather than improvements in generation.

This was also noted by Eskom Group Executive: Generation, Bheki Nxumalo, on Friday (24 November) when he noted that one of the biggest reasons that stage 6 load shedding returned was because demand and the grid had spiked (likely from the use of aircons amid the heatwave).

Read: Eskom is in trouble

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