Energy

Load-shedding is coming back

Load-shedding is not a thing of the past in South Africa, with experts warning that it will return. Government officials, including President Ramaphosa, added that the country’s electricity supply remains vulnerable. 

South Africa has experienced over 100 days without load-shedding, the longest streak since 2020. 

This is largely due to the improved performance of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, which have undergone intense maintenance over the past 18 months. 

These power stations have become significantly more reliable, improving the utility’s overall energy availability factor (EAF) and ensuring it can meet demand. 

The extended period without load-shedding, which has even lasted into winter, has given South Africans hope that power cuts may be a thing of the past. 

However, several experts, the utility, and the President have cautioned against this optimism, saying the electricity system remains finely balanced. 

In a recent statement, Eskom said its winter outlook is still in full force despite the improved performance and Kusile Unit 5 coming online. This outlook predicted the utility would keep load-shedding to an average of stage 2 during the colder months. 

It also said that managing the morning and evening peaks has become increasingly difficult for the utility, which threatens to push Eskom to reintroduce rotational power cuts. 

So far, the utility has managed to avoid this but has had to reintroduce load reduction, which reduces electricity supply to areas of elevated demand to ensure its infrastructure is not overloaded. 

It emphasised that load reduction is not load-shedding, as it still had sufficient generating capacity to meet the country’s electricity demand.

“Load reduction is a long-established process that Eskom uses in specific areas when there is sufficient electricity available, but a transformer’s integrity is at risk due to overloading,” it said. 

Load-shedding may return

In his weekly letter to the public, President Ramaphosa urged caution against thinking load-shedding is a thing of the past. 

“Our electricity system remains vulnerable, and we cannot yet rule out a possibility of further load shedding,” he said.

The President urged the Government of National Unity (GNU) to continue the reform of the electricity sector by increasing private participation. 

Ramaphosa said the milestone of 100 days without load-shedding is a testament to the success of these reforms and is not a reason to relax. 

This warning echoes sentiments similar to those of Electricity and Energy Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. 

Ramokgopa said it is in the nature of Eskom’s work for it to suffer setbacks, as it is such a complex organisation to manage. 

“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,” he said. 

Energy experts warn against too much optimism

Energy analyst Chris Yelland

Experts from outside government have also warned that load-shedding will return, with energy analyst Chris Yelland saying that Eskom may still implement power cuts this winter. 

Yelland said that while the intensity and regularity of load-shedding may have significantly reduced, power cuts will still happen. 

He explained that another contributing factor to the reduction in load-shedding is a warmer-than-usual winter and lower demand due to households and companies cutting their reliance on Eskom. 

This is unlikely to last, as demand will ramp up during a cold snap and when big industries begin to grow their output again. 

While big mining companies have invested billions in renewable energy projects to power their mines, reducing their emissions and reliance on Eskom, they still consume a substantial amount of electricity. 

In particular, smelters across South Africa owned by Glencore, South32, and others are massive electricity consumers and cannot be powered by renewables. 

Former Reserve Bank governor Kuben Naidoo warned that once this industry begins to ramp up demand, load-shedding will be reintroduced. 

“My personal view is that half of the reason we don’t have load shedding is because the mining sector is in a deep recession,” Naidoo said.

“If you switch on the mining sector, I think load shedding will return, so we still need to continue investing in renewable energy and other energy sources to break that constraint.”

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