South Africa cannot cope with load shedding beyond stage 2: economists

South Africa has largely adapted to stage 2 load shedding, say economists at the Bureau for Economic Research (BER), but beyond these levels, households, businesses, and the economy at large simply cannot cope.

State power utility Eskom announced load shedding at various stages this week, starting with stage 4 load shedding during the day on Monday, escalating to stage 6 during the evening peak, before falling back to stage 4 overnight.

This rollercoaster schedule will be in effect for most of the week, with the power utility expressing some hope that the situation will stabilise to around stage 2 load shedding by the weekend.

While Eskom has ruled out stage 8 load shedding, economists at the BER said that the cost to avoid the highest available stage is staggering.

Not only is the damage to the economy due to lost productivity around R4 billion at stage 6, but the cost of diesel to prevent stage 8, adds more to the bill.

“Eskom (is) running its open-cycle gas turbines more than planned. Combined they can generate about, 2,000MW of power – shielding the country from 2 load-shedding stages. Due to higher-than forecasted diesel prices, this means that costs have surged with the already struggling entity spending more than R4 billion on diesel so far this year.

“In June alone, the diesel bill came in at R1.5 billion – more than double the budget for the month,” the BER said.

However, the economists noted that, beyond the immediate costs, the long-term impact of these record-high levels of load shedding on households and businesses also needs to be factored in.

“While many businesses and households have found ways to cope with the lower stages of load-shedding, beyond stage 2, the negative impact on the economy amplifies with each additional stage,” the BER said.

Examples of this include electricity substations tending to break down more frequently when subjected to regular stop-starts due to load-shedding. This results in longer than-scheduled electricity outages, it said.

“Furthermore, some municipally-managed water reservoirs deplete during load-shedding and do not always have sufficient time to recover, while even traffic lights with backup battery power supply tend to stop working after a few hours.

“Indeed, many battery- or other household-based alternative power solutions struggle to keep up with extended periods of no power or do not have sufficient time to recharge in between blackouts. Even more permanent solutions such as diesel generators run into trouble after consecutive days of stage 4 or more load-shedding,” it said.

Eskom said that the higher levels of load shedding was due to a wild cat strike by workers demanding higher wages. The power utility said that approximately 2,700MW – up to 3 stages of load-shedding – went offline due to a shortage of workers.

While it appears as if Eskom is making progress with unions, the BER warned that even with a resolution and workers returning to their posts, critical plant maintenance has been delayed, which increases the likelihood of more intense load-shedding.

Read: Expect load shedding for weeks to come, starting with stage 6 on Monday – here’s the new schedule

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South Africa cannot cope with load shedding beyond stage 2: economists