Lights out for the holiday season in South Africa

 ·3 Dec 2023

Electricity forecasts for December 2023 and January 2024 paint a bleak picture of the incoming festive season, with the best-case scenario showing only six days without load shedding over the next two months.

Daily Maverick reported that this was revealed in a presentation by Eskom officials last week, which showed there would be load shedding between stages 1 and 3 throughout December at the very best, and between stages 4 and 6 every day at the very worst.

A similar best- and worst-case scenario is forecasted for January.  

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa promised that there would be fewer blackouts in December and that some days would be free of blackouts. This came as Ramokgopa said that some generating units are expected to return to service during the week, meaning more generating capacity.

In an interview on SABC’s unfiltered series, Ramokgopa even said load shedding will have ended by 24 December 2023. when asked if he was confident about this end date, Ramokgopa said, “I am more than confident”.

However, the forecast given by Eskom officials differs greatly from this promise.

This past week, Eskom implemented stage 6 load shedding. While this was eased by the weekend, South Africa spent most of the week in high stages of outages, between stage 4 and stage 6.

Higher stages of load-shedding surprised many people since Ramokgopa said Eskom’s performance has improved.

“The energy availability factor (EAF) has been consistent on an average of 60% for the past 14 days. We are getting much closer to the target of 70% EAF that we had promised,” he said in June.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland and other energy experts warned that the Minister’s optimism was misplaced and South Africans should brace for more load-shedding in the years ahead.

Unacceptable excuses

Speaking to Newzroom Afrika, engineer and energy expert Mthunzi Luthuli added that what is happening is the politicians use words like “we’ve turned a corner” or “stemming the tide” to ensure that the public is not too anxious and angry and to try to play down their failings.

“The situation is not improving, and we’re not moving forward in terms of fixing the issues at Eskom,” he said. “We are definitely not going to see an improvement over the festive season”.

Speaking to the reasons for the increases in load shedding in recent weeks, Ramokgopa said higher anticipated demand, unplanned breakdowns of units, and the need to replenish reserves were the culprits for increased power outages.

Luthuli said that these excuses are simply unacceptable.

“Blaming the weather is not acceptable; we’ve always had cold weather in winter and hot weather in summer, and blaming these factors for power cuts is nonsense. Secondly, using and replenishing reserves is a common process when operating an ordinary power system – so blaming reserves is not an excuse,” he said.

Luthuli noted that Ramokgopa should be solely focused on procuring a lot more generating capacity, and we are not doing this at a fast enough pace.

Eskom’s latest EAF numbers

Yelland said Eskom’s EAF dropped to 53.4% last week – far below Ramokgopa’s 60% to 70% target.

“It will be interesting to see the EAF for this week, which covers the seven-day period ending Sunday, 26 Nov 2026, during which stage 6 load-shedding started again,” he said.

The chart below shows Eskom’s EAF for the first 47 weeks of the 2023 calendar year.

Read: Good news for Eskom’s big turnaround plan

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