Load shedding will be back

 ·5 Jun 2024

Energy experts have warned that there is a high risk of load shedding in the coming weeks as demand increases due to colder weather.

Eskom highlighted that South Africa had gone around 70 days without load shedding. The last time this happened was between 5 December 2021 and 2 February 2022.

The power utility attributed its generation fleet’s improved performance and reliability to its Generation Operational Recovery Plan, which began in March 2023.

The plan involved expediting planned maintenance, increasing preventative maintenance, carrying out major plant refurbishments, and implementing life extension projects.

Eskom stated that, due to these efforts, the reduction in Unplanned Capacity Loss Factor (UCLF) or unplanned maintenance was becoming increasingly evident.

Consequently, Eskom’s energy available factor (EAF) has significantly improved, preventing load shedding for two months.

However, power cuts are expected to resume as winter progresses and electricity demand rises, placing pressure on Eskom’s generation fleet.

A cold front has affected parts of South Africa since Monday (3 June).

Eskom’s system status report—which has shifted from ‘code red’ in the past two months—is also showing a high risk of shortfalls this week.

City Power has warned Johannesburg residents that prolonged power outages may happen if electricity is not used sparingly in the coming weeks.

The utility mentioned that its system is under immense strain due to high consumption, worsened by a recent temperature drop.

Some areas also approach critical usage levels that could overload electricity equipment and lead to regional blackouts.

The energy supplier urges its customers to reduce electricity usage immediately to relieve the strain on the system and prevent load reduction measures from being implemented.

The increasing electricity demand is not limited to Johannesburg; Eskom’s latest Weekly System Status Report indicates a nationwide surge in demand.

In South Africa, the demand for electricity during winter is approximately 6,000 MW higher than in summer.

Although current demand is still lower than in 2023, the contracted energy demand has exceeded the utility’s forecast for 2024.

This upward trend is expected to persist as the country enters the depths of winter.

Eskom’s CEO, Dan Marokane, stated that despite the utility’s improved performance, it has not increased its electricity supply enough to “confidently” prevent load-shedding in winter.

He mentioned that Eskom’s performance has significantly improved, with breakdowns decreasing by nearly 10% compared to last year and unit trips decreasing by 19%.

However, Marokane expressed concern that the current unplanned losses of 14,200 MW were still unsustainable and likely to lead to load shedding in winter, with the utility aiming to contain this to stage 2.

Energy Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has also cautioned South Africans that load-shedding is likely to return as Eskom may face future setbacks.

In late April, he mentioned that Eskom is expected to encounter significant challenges due to the large-scale nature of its operations.

He stated, “We are still working on the reliability of these machines, and that’s why you can’t speak with great confidence that load shedding is behind us. That would be a false claim that can’t be substantiated.”

Furthermore, Professor Sampson Mamphweli, the head of energy at the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), has warned that load shedding could escalate to stage 5 during winter.

South Africa has experienced a warmer-than-anticipated winter and increased generation from rooftop solar, which has helped prevent load-shedding.

Mamphweli pointed out that the rise in solar power generation during the day allows Eskom to build up its reserves for the evening peak.

However, this may not be sufficient to prevent load-shedding throughout winter.

There may be days without load shedding, but there could also be days with stage 5 load shedding if breakdowns at Eskom’s power stations increase, leading to a rapid decline in electricity supply.

Mamphweli’s analysis resonates with University of Johannesburg professor Hartmut Winkler, who mentioned that load shedding is expected to recur despite lower demand due to the increase in rooftop solar.

Winkler added that Eskom has provided an optimistic view to the public regarding its winter situation, and he anticipates South Africa to fluctuate between stages 1 and 3.

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