Winter is coming: The plan to curb load shedding starts next month

 ·15 Feb 2024

Minister in the Presidency for Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, says that power utility Eskom will start winding down its planned maintenance schedule as the winter months approach.

Winter months – starting from May – tend to see significant spikes in user demand for energy, placing the grid at risk of higher levels of load shedding.

Ahead of winter 2023, Eskom and the electricity minister warned that load shedding could be pushed as high as stage 8 due to the expected demand spike – however, this thankfully never materialised.

Since then, however, Eskom has embarked on a massive planned maintenance regime, with planned outages outpacing levels seen over the last three years. This maintenance came at the cost of power availability, and saw load shedding return far earlier in 2024 than anticipated, and even contributed to the recent push to stage 6.

According to Ramokgopa, the maintenance is part of a “calculated risk” strategy, where the power utility has to take units offline for repairs – but leaves the grid vulnerable to shocks if other units fail or something else happens to cut supply.

Nevertheless, briefing parliament in a State of the Nation debate this week, the electricity minister said that the plan is to gradually reduce maintenance from March, heading into May.

“From March of 2024, we will begin reducing planned maintenance from the current 6,000MW to 5,000MW in April 2024 and to around 3,500MW in May 2024 – a threshold that will be sustained during the winter demand period,” he said.

By doing this, Eskom should be able to claw back over 2,000MW of capacity – ostensibly covering most of the anticipated rise in demand, which has historically surpassed 30,000MW, from the norm of around 27,000MW.

Eskom will present its winter load shedding plan closer to the start of the season.

Its summer plan envisioned a scenario where load shedding would not exceed stage 4. Until this past weekend when stage 6 hit for the first time since November 2023, the utility was largely keeping within those boundaries.

During the debate, Ramokgopa repeated his optimistic and election-friendly view – one shared by president Cyril Ramaphosa – that “the end of load shedding is in sight”.

Ramaphosa was left with egg on his face after stage 6 load shedding hit shortly after making the statement during his State of the Nation Address. Ramokgopa said that the spike in load shedding was merely a “temporary setback”.

Contrary to views from the presidency that load shedding’s days are numbered, however, the draft Integrated Resource Plan for 2023 projects that load shedding will remain a feature in South Africa for at least four more years – though decreasing in intensity and frequency as new generating capacity comes online.

In the near term, Eskom’s latest available System Status Report shows that an energy shortfall of between 1,000MW and 2,000MW is expected to persist for the rest of the year (based on estimated unplanned outage of between 16,000MW and 18,200MW).

Read: Eskom announces permanent stage 3 load shedding until further notice

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