Former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter has warned that widespread load-shedding exclusions, promoted by President Cyril Ramaphosa, could result in a grid collapse or blackout.
Ramaphosa said in his 2023 State of the Nation Address that the state of disaster would enable the state to provide practical measures needed to support businesses.
“Where technically possible, it will enable us to exempt critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from load-shedding,” he said.
The regulations require national, provincial, and local governments to ensure the continuous operation of health facilities, water infrastructure, and other essential infrastructure.
A court case by UDM, ActionSA, and 17 others also seeks to exempt sectors like safety and healthcare from load-shedding.
This request seems logical and even noble, but De Ruyter warned that it is not technically feasible and can have disastrous consequences.
He explained in his answering affidavit that hospitals, schools, police stations, small businesses, and telecoms infrastructure are embedded in distribution networks containing other residential and non-residential loads.
Due to their embeddedness, these institutions cannot be excluded from load-shedding without also excluding the other customers who share those distribution lines.
“To continue to supply an embedded customer with electricity requires continuing to supply all the other upstream customers on the distribution line as well,” he said.
Maintaining the grid, and preventing a blackout, requires keeping electricity supply and demand levels in balance.
Maintaining supply to excluded customers where load-shedding is implemented will require more severe load-shedding elsewhere on the grid.
If institutions are excluded from load-shedding, there would be very little load left to shed to reduce demand on the grid.
“This presents a manifest risk of grid collapse or blackout,” De Ruyter said.
Finding a solution
De Ruyter said Eskom was working with government departments and National Treasury to find solutions to protect vulnerable facilities and institutions from load-shedding.
However, it is not possible to use a single technological solution to serve the needs of all these facilities.
It is because different configurations and infrastructure are used in distribution networks around the country.
There are also a variety of electricity supply needs of different customers and disparities in the resources that may be available.
“Eskom is, therefore, working with different departments and customers seeking protection from load-shedding,” De Ruyter said.
The power utility is working with public hospitals, agri-food producers, and other customers to assess their needs and determine the optimal solutions on a case-by-case basis.
This is done “while keeping in mind the overall duty to ensure that any exemptions granted are done rationally, equitably, and without compromising the integrity of the grid overall”.