A legal case being heard at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria involving 19 applicants, including political parties, trade unions, and other entities, could result in a total national blackout, warns former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. The applicants are fighting to declare load-shedding unconstitutional, with the case unfolding in two parts.
- Exclusion of hospitals, schools, police stations, water facilities, small businesses, and communication networks from load-shedding
- Holding the president, ministers, and South African government responsible for load-shedding and its societal impact
- Forcing the government to present a plan to end load-shedding, which has cost the country R338-billion over the last decade
Despite the applicants’ intentions, excluding specific sectors from load-shedding could put the South African electricity grid at risk. De Ruyter explains that these facilities are part of distribution networks containing residential and non-residential loads. To exclude them from load-shedding, other customers on the same network must also be exempted.
Eskom’s Delicate Balancing Act:
Eskom prevents grid collapse and national blackout by balancing electricity supply and demand. If the supply to exempted facilities and their shared grid customers must be maintained, more severe load-shedding will occur elsewhere. According to De Ruyter, this would effectively make load-shedding impossible, presenting a severe risk of grid collapse or blackout.
The Consequences of a Blackout:
- Loss of water supply and sewerage treatment
- Shutdown of telephone and internet services
- Petrol and diesel shortages
- Non-functional digital platforms, payment systems, and automatic teller machines
- Chaos on roads, difficulty keeping produce fresh, and impacted food supplies
- High risk of looting, vandalism, and public unrest
De Ruyter stresses that South Africa cannot afford to take the risk of a blackout, which would cause immense human and economic harm.
A More Viable Solution:
Rather than trying to exempt certain sectors, Eskom is collaborating with government departments, National Treasury, and customers to assess their needs and determine optimal solutions on a case-by-case basis. This approach aims to protect vulnerable facilities and institutions from load-shedding without compromising the grid’s integrity.
Due to the diverse configurations, infrastructure, and electricity supply needs, a single technological solution cannot be applied nationwide. Instead, localised backup solutions, such as solar power and battery backup, could remove blackout risks and provide electricity security during load-shedding. This proposal aligns with the applicants’ alternative demand for the government to implement measures ensuring electricity access for these sectors during load-shedding.