Stage 8 load shedding ‘a possibility’ should another cold spell coincide with failure of units, says Eskom
At dawn on Wednesday, South Africa was once again moved into Stage 6 power cuts. As winter bites, Stage 8 load shedding is ‘still a possibility’ — albeit less likely, given the current performance of Eskom’s fleet, the power utility says.
South Africans saw the resurgence of Stage 6 power cuts this week after a brutal cold front which led to icy conditions around the country caused the demand for power to “exceed what was anticipated” on Monday, Eskom said.
“The cold weather does drive up the demand for electricity but the cold weather was forecasted and the planning to meet the demand was in place. On Monday, 10 July, the demand for electricity did exceed the expected demand,” the power utility said in response to questions from Daily Maverick on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, the prolonged high demand and the failure of some generator units necessitated the implementation of higher stages of load shedding.”
The country is currently experiencing Stage 4 and 6 power cuts. The higher stages of load shedding were implemented to balance the demand for electricity with supply, as well as for Eskom to “begin replenishing the depleted emergency reserves”, it said.
In May, the power utility presented a worst-case scenario for the winter season and warned of possible Stage 7 and 8 outages between June and August.
But daily power cuts eased in the following weeks. This was largely because Eskom was doing less maintenance and because of a reduction in demand in June. Read Ferial Haffajee’s five-slide guide here.
The resurgence of Stage 4 and 6 power cuts this week came amid a brutal cold front which on Monday caused snow to fall in Johannesburg for the first time in more than a decade. Snow was also reported in the northeastern parts of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and the mountainous regions of the Western Cape.
With icy conditions continuing to be felt around the country, the resurgence of daily power outages came as parts of Johannesburg were undergoing scheduled 58-hour water cuts for planned maintenance, making life miserable for residents of South Africa’s largest city.
On Sunday, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa promised that the utility was prepared for the cold front that was fast approaching. He said the country “will not experience the worst-case scenario”.
“We are surpassing our expectations in relation to the performance of the units and we are more than confident that we should be able to survive the winter,” he said.
Read in Daily Maverick: SA will avoid worst-case load shedding scenario in winter, says Electricity Minister Ramokgopa
Twenty-four hours later, the grid teetered as demand soared and generation capacity reduced. The country was plunged into Stage 4 power cuts.
In a statement just after 6am on Wednesday, Eskom announced that load shedding would be ramped up to Stage 6 from 2pm to 5am on Thursday, while Stage 4 would remain implemented from 7am to 2pm. This would continue “until further notice”, it said.
Eskom said the increase in daily power outages was caused by the loss of additional generating units overnight, the extensive use of its Open Cycle Gas Turbines and the inability to replenish pumped storage dam levels.
In response to Daily Maverick, Eskom said its unplanned capability loss factor (UCLF) — or unplanned losses — was 10,464MW at 4pm on Wednesday.
It added that Stage 8 power cuts — although unlikely — remained a possibility this winter.
“A high demand for electricity for the remainder of winter will be determined largely by how cold weather sets in across the country in the coming weeks and what the generation capacity available will be when that occurs. While less likely, given the current performance of the Eskom generation fleet, Stage 8 load shedding is still a possibility this winter.
“During the warmer period, Stage 3 to 4 load shedding is to be expected, while colder periods may increase this. Should a cold spell coincide with multiple generator breakdowns, high stages of load shedding may be necessary for a short duration,” the utility said.
Eskom’s current energy availability factor (EAF) — its power generation fleet that is available relative to its installed capacity — is 57.73%.
30 days and counting
Last year was the most intensive load shedding year on record — a record that 2023 is likely to beat. South Africans experienced 166 hours of Stage 6 load shedding last year. This has more than tripled in 2023 so far, with 729 hours (or 30 days and nine hours) of Stage 6 load shedding clocked until 27 June.
To track the days and stages of rolling blackouts in South Africa, see The Outlier here. DM