Load Shedding in South Africa Plunges to New Depths

Bleak Forecast for Power Availability

With a week of unbroken load shedding, the first in nine weeks, South Africa is facing a disappointing reversal in the power situation. Despite a momentary respite in June and early July, Eskom’s load shedding patterns are progressively deteriorating. This comes from Pieter Jordaan, an independent energy analyst, whose Power Availability Statistics reveal a reversion to mid-level load shedding (averaging stage 4) for the week ending July 28, 2023.

The downturn in power availability is largely attributable to recent adverse weather conditions, which have increased power demand. Moreover, the longer-term view suggests a steady decline in the nation’s power situation, culminating in a new low at the end of July. Over the past 12 months, power availability has dwindled to an average of 79%, essentially placing the country in constant stage 3 load shedding.

A Closer Look at the Data

In his assessment, Jordaan goes beyond the usual metrics such as total hours of load shedding in effect, currently standing at 4,545 hours. He sheds light on more critical points like blackout hours and the Power Availability Ratio (PAR) of the grid.

Blackout hours gauge the actual time South African households spend in darkness, whereas PAR denotes the period when consumers have power, accounting for load shedding outage times. PAR is expressed as a percentage, with 100% indicating full access to grid power. For each 7% drop from this point, a full stage of load shedding is enacted.

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Jordaan observes that for the first time, all longer-term PAR measures (monthly, quarterly, and yearly) have converged at approximately 79%.

“It means that South Africa’s power availability has stagnated at around stage 3 – or 5 hours of outages per day – over the medium and long terms,” Jordaan said.

An Ominous Long-term Perspective

Interestingly, the data shows that the yearly view has plunged to a new low. The last time South Africa was this close to such a situation was post the worst-ever month of load shedding in May 2023. Given that the metric is a moving average, the outlook looks even grimmer.

Jordaan warned, “Over the past week (PAR-7), the average has ticked higher to around stage 4.”

Demand and Supply Imbalance

Eskom’s strategy to reverse this trend involves enhancing power availability by either bolstering generation and Energy Availability Factor (EAF) or curtailing demand. But these plans are riddled with challenges. There’s an anticipation of improved EAF and the revival of Kusile’s generating units in the near future. However, they must also grapple with unit breakdowns and delays.

On the other side, public calls to manage power demand have largely fallen on deaf ears. On August 1, the beleaguered utility recorded demand exceeding 33,000MW against a supply of 28,700MW. Alarmingly, this demand already surpasses Eskom’s projections.

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The Road Ahead

Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, reaffirmed that initiatives to bolster grid capacity are underway. But the unfortunate reality is that these added megawatts are still two or three years away from coming online.

In the interim, Eskom is incessantly juggling outages slips, unit trips, and a myriad of other problems threatening to plunge the country deeper into the load shedding crisis.

Despite Eskom’s predictions of a slight improvement by year-end, the path ahead is still fraught with challenges. Thus, as South Africa battles with its power situation, it seems the country is bound to endure darker days before any hint of dawn.

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