Bracing for Power Challenges: Eskom and the Unlikely Scenario of Stage 16 Load-Shedding

Navigating New Regulations

There’s been a new development in South Africa’s ongoing energy saga. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has been presented with a set of regulations by the National Rationalised Specifications (NRS) Association of South Africa. These guidelines outline how power utility Eskom could execute load-shedding up to an unprecedented Stage 16, if needed.

Explaining the Game Plan

Vally Padayachee, the Chairperson of the NRS, laid out the motives behind these guidelines during a chat with eNCA, as well as an overview of what Stage 16 might entail.

Padayachee expounded, “It is all about planning for the unlikely event that load-shedding goes beyond stage 8”. He was quick to clarify that the inclusion of Stage 16 isn’t a prediction, stating, “Stage 16 was not included because it will happen, but rather because we cannot guarantee that we won’t go beyond stage 6 or even stage 8.”

Planning Ahead

The proposed regulations offer a safety net to the system operator, Eskom, and municipalities if load-shedding were to exceed Stage 8. In such a scenario, an unplanned emergency contingency mode would be initiated, undertaking abrupt measures to curtail demand and prevent grid collapse. The new regulations would provide a nationally consistent response to load-shedding beyond Stage 8, thus streamlining decision-making processes.

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Under the hypothetical Stage 16, the country’s entire load would be systematically shed to stave off grid collapse. That said, Eskom may opt to exempt essential loads concerning safety, environmental, and economic impacts.

While Padayachee acknowledges the scenario of Stage 16 is rather remote, he also pointed out that previous editions of NRS regulations have, unfortunately, foreshadowed load-shedding severities. The initial 2010 edition only included up to Stage 4, considered unlikely then. Nonetheless, by 2017, South Africa hit Stage 4, leading to the release of a second edition, accounting for up to Stage 8.

Dismantling False Hope

In Padayachee’s own words, “we are not out of the woods yet.” Despite the recent downturn in load-shedding stages due to improved generation performance, Padayachee warns against complacency, cautioning that, “As professionals, we should not give the country a false sense of hope.”

The true litmus test for Eskom is predicted to be at the end of July and the dawn of August when winter demand surges, placing the generation fleet under pressure. That said, decreased economic activity, the private sector’s increasing reliance on alternative power sources, and an improved Energy Availability Factor (EAF) could potentially lighten the load.

Looking Ahead

Padayachee takes a realistic stance, stating, “Pragmatically, we are not out of the woods yet. We must wait and see.” He estimates a two-year timeline to effectively address load-shedding, with demand management as the most viable short-term solution. Ultimately, this reveals a sobering yet pragmatic roadmap for the nation’s energy future.