Massive turn for load shedding in South Africa – but with a catch

 ·23 May 2024

Energy experts say data from Eskom shows a major turnaround for power availability in South Africa, sparking some hope that brighter days lie ahead. But this comes with the warning that we are not in the clear just yet, with winter load shedding still on the cards.

Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa echoed this sentiment this week when he stated that winter demand will be “exceptionally elevated.”

The minister conceded to some unit failures in the past week where the use of diesel managed to meet the shortfalls and prevent load shedding. However, he stressed that diesel use is far lower than in previous months and compared to last year.

According to the South African National Energy Development Institute’s (SANEDI’s) head of energy, Professor Sampson Mamphweli, Eskom has significantly improved its performance, even to the extent that if it continues this way, the country could be looking at a definitive end of load shedding sooner than anticipated.

However, in the near-term, the winter risks are present.

Speaking to NewzroomAfrika, Mamphweli said that Eskom has reduced breakdowns in its coal fleet by 7%, which has seen energy availability (EAF) increase by 7%.

Combined with lower than anticipated demand (sitting at between 24,000MW and 28,000MW) and about 6,000MW of ‘space’ given to Eskom by rooftop solar and other private generation during the day, the status of the grid is far more positive and stable.

Going into winter, however, the picture might change.

“Demand has been lower than expected. The weather has been warmer than usual – but we think when we head towards June and July things might change,” he said.

“The grid will be slightly constrained in winter, and we’re looking at at least stage 2 load shedding if demand rises to over 34,000MW.”

If Eskom manages to bring back 3,500MW of capacity as it has planned, however, Mamphweli said there might be days where the country experiences no load shedding at all.

But if unplanned outages increase – by 7%, undoing the gains made – load shedding will definitely escalate. Eskom’s winter outlook noted that in the worst-case scenario, load shedding should not exceed stage 5.

Despite the near-term strain, Mamphweli said he was confident that Eskom has turned the corner.

With more energy coming online in the private sector and large industries and the national utility’s “extreme maintenance” leading to a much more reliable grid, South Africa could see the end of load shedding by the end of 2024 or early 2025, he said.

Speaking to ITWeb TV, Eskom chairman Mteto Nyati expressed similar sentiments, saying that South Africa is unlikely to have load shedding in 2025 thanks to the maintenance regime.

He said that the maintenance work done by Eskom means that the current available capacity is around 32,000MW, and demand is around 28,000MW, giving a “huge surplus”. He lauded the increase in EAF to between 65% and 70%, saying this was in line with targets set, albeit slightly delayed.

Mamphweli cited previous Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) which stated that if EAF was above 70%, load shedding would not be needed.

According to energy expert Chris Yelland, Eskom has pulled off a “truly remarkable turnaround” with energy availability, chalking it up to a decline in planned maintenance (in line with a seasonal pattern) while unplanned breakdowns hold steady at 5 percentage points lower than for the first 17 weeks of 2024.

Read: The dark shadow over South Africa’s big load shedding win

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