Load-shedding is not over

Energy expert Professor Mark Swilling said that, despite a recent reprieve from load-shedding, South Africa is not out of the woods yet, as the country still faces an electricity crisis.

Swilling told SABC News that South Africa does not have an Eskom crisis but a national electricity system crisis.

His comments come after South Africa has experienced over 25 days of no load-shedding. However, Swilling warned that South Africa is not out of the woods yet, and load-shedding will return.

“No expert is going to tell you that now that we’ve had quite a long period of no load-shedding, we’re out of the woods,” he said. 

“No Eskom official can put their hand on their heart and say tomorrow morning we will continue to have no load-shedding because there’s a lot of instability – anything can happen tomorrow.”

Swilling explained that the uncertainty and instability in South Africa’s electricity system is due to Eskom’s ageing coal fleet.

Some of the older power stations were going to be closed or refurbished, but this plan was changed in the government’s latest Integrated Resource Plan.

Swilling said this means it will become increasingly difficult to keep these stations working reliably.

“All that we can be certain about is that there are high levels of uncertainty in the system,” he said.

However, Swilling said progress is being made in addressing the crisis.

“I still strongly think we need to accept that we have a crisis, but the solutions are starting to emerge,” he said. 

For example, South Africa is seeing large-scale renewables coming online and more households adopting rooftop solar. This reduces the pressure on the national grid. 

There has also been an increase in energy efficiency in the country, meaning people are becoming more conscious of electricity use and replacing inefficient electricity pumps with more efficient ones.

“I think a multiplicity of factors are coming together that will gradually contribute to us resolving this crisis. There are solutions; it is possible – we just have to stay the course,” he said.

Professor Mark Swilling. Source: World Economic Forum/Walter Duerst

Swilling’s comments echo energy expert Chris Yelland, who said South Africans can expect intermittent load-shedding to continue until Eskom’s long-term problems are resolved.

Yelland explained that the reduced load-shedding seen in the past few weeks is not solely due to the improved performance of Eskom’s fleet.

Firstly, Eskom was able to bring extra power online by bypassing pollution controls at Kusile Power Station. 

However, the utility’s extension to bypass these laws will expire, and Eskom will then need to address the problems at this power station by taking some of its units offline for months at a time.

Secondly, there has been lower demand for electricity this year. This is likely because more people are using alternative energy sources like solar panels. 

However, there are still many households in South Africa that cannot afford these alternatives and will continue to rely on Eskom for power.

Yelland, therefore, believes that load-shedding will likely continue, but it should be less severe than before. 

He said Eskom is working on solutions, but it will take time to fix the underlying problems.


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