Shrinking the generation reserve margin to reduce the level of load-shedding is very dangerous as it increases the risk of a total blackout.
This is the warning from political analyst JP Landman who discussed Eskom and load-shedding during a webinar hosted by Nedbank Private Wealth.
Load-shedding is implemented to artificially reduce demand, ensuring that it does not outstrip supply and cause the grid to collapse.
South Africa’s electricity grid is designed to automatically shut down if demand exceeds supply for safety reasons and to ensure the grid can be restarted.
Landman said the country is unlikely to experience a total blackout if there are elevated levels of load-shedding as demand will be artificially reduced to below supply levels.
However, if load-shedding levels are reduced, particularly without significantly improving generation capacity, the risk of a total blackout increases significantly.
Landman had particular concerns that load-shedding is being reduced for political reasons and not due to improved performance.
He explained that a reduction in load-shedding may be due to Eskom reducing the generation reserve margin.
This margin creates a buffer between electricity demand and supply to ensure the grid does not automatically shut down.
Normally this buffer sits at 15%, but recent reports suggest it could have been reduced to as little as 6% to reduce load-shedding.
This is very concerning for Landman as it puts South Africa at risk of a total blackout. “Give me stage 15, stage 16 load-shedding rather than a national blackout,” he said.
Nedbank chief economist Nicky Weimar said South Africans should “watch this space” as the country is sailing close to the edge regarding a total grid collapse.
She added that South Africa narrowly avoided a total blackout in February, which shows the risk of toying with established standards.
Concerns about winter load-shedding
Energy expert Clyde Mallinson is concerned that Eskom is easing up on planned maintenance to reduce load-shedding, which threatens the longer-term sustainability of the power supply.
Eskom performs most of its maintenance in the summer when there is lower demand, allowing more units to be taken offline.
As the country moves into winter, this maintenance plan eases off to allow the utility to “throw everything it has” at the higher winter demand.
However, this easing off appears to have begun earlier than usual this year. This is unsustainable in the long term as maintenance must be done.
Acting head of generation at Eskom, Thomas Conradie, says that Eskom’s system remains “very much at risk”, with roughly 6,000MW of generation being unreliable.
He said the performance of Eskom’s fleet in 2023 “will be a bit up and down” as there is “inherent unreliability in our fleet”.