A Major Shift in South Africa’s Load Shedding Landscape

After three weeks of suspended daytime load shedding, South Africa has witnessed a significant influence on its load shedding trendline, contributing to more optimistic long-term trend data. Independent energy analyst, Pieter Jordaan, has shed light on these developments in his recent Power Availability Statistics report for the 25th week of the year.

From Blackout Hours to Power Availability Ratio (PAR)

Although South Africans generally gauge the severity of outages by the total hours of load shedding, Jordaan’s research dives deeper, focusing on more substantial factors like blackout hours and the Power Availability Ratio (PAR) of the grid.

PAR indicates the time consumers have utility power at their disposal, post deduction of load shedding outage times. It’s expressed as a percentage; at 100%, households have full access to grid power, with every 7% drop signifying a full stage of load shedding.

In a week-over-week review (PAR-7), Eskom’s ability to suspend load shedding most of the day contributed to a 19 percentage point increase to 91% PAR. This, Jordaan affirms, was the fastest weekly recovery rate ever, surpassing even the late March/early April improvement, catalyzed by the Easter break.

Contributors to Load Shedding Relief

According to Jordaan, a combination of cooler weather, decreased demand, and enhanced generation (EAF of 59%) helped Eskom maintain effective load shedding around stage 1 over the past three weeks. He also suggests that a decline in criminal activity at coal-fired plants could have played a role in sustaining this improvement.

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Interestingly, last year’s data for the same period reveals a similar 3-week hiatus from load shedding. However, that period was followed by severe load shedding, instigated by employee criminality during wage talks.

Eskom’s successful wage negotiations this year have, fortunately, minimized the chances of such a recurrence.

The Long-Term Perspective

Despite the promising short-term PAR-7 outlook, the longer-term data, specifically the year-on-year PAR-364, still portrays a downward trend. It shows load shedding remains significantly worse than in 2022, with the trendline only starting to flatten.

Nevertheless, there are glimmers of hope. On June 14, the quarterly view (PAR-91) managed to breach the 75% resistance line, holding steady for 11 days. This resistance line represents stage 4 load shedding, which divides the low and high stages of outages.

A look at the monthly data (PAR-28) reveals that May stayed below the 72% mark throughout. That month, South Africans experienced a record number of outages (244 hours, or 10 full days), with a daily average of 7.9 hours, surpassing February 2023’s 7.1 hr/day record.

With the onset of June, a significant recovery is underway. The month’s PAR is projected to level out around 90% (average stage 1.3), marking the best monthly PAR in ten months, Jordaan confirmed.

Words of Caution

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While South Africans savor a respite from full-day load shedding, energy experts urge against complacency, reminding everyone that load shedding persists.

Outlier and EskomsePush data reveal that load shedding was in effect for 3,861 hours in 2023. Astonishingly, only one day saw a complete suspension of load shedding.

As for blackout hours, South Africans spent 44 full days (1,056 hours) without electricity. Jordaan predicts this will amount to approximately 92 days (~2,200 hours) by year-end.

Eskom continues load shedding at stage 1 during the day, due to delays in returning generating units to the grid. This abrupt shift implemented on Wednesday underlines the continuing strain on the grid and its volatility, highlighting that conditions can change rapidly.

In response, both the government and Eskom have urged South Africans to be judicious with power usage. Despite the improvements, the battle with load shedding is far from over.

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