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POWER CRISIS

Stage 16 rolling blackout draft protocols published as officials stress there is no cause for alarm

Stage 16 rolling blackout draft protocols published as officials stress there is no cause for alarm
(Photo: Leon Sadiki / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A revised edition of the current load shedding code of practice, which provides for rolling blackouts up to Stage 16, has been published by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa for public consultation.

The publication of draft protocols that spell out details for up to Stage 16 of rolling blackouts does not mean we are heading there, but is necessary to prepare the System Operator for if South Africa ever had to go beyond Stage 8 power cuts. 

This was reiterated by Vally Padayachee, chairman of the National Rationalised Specifications (NRS) Association of South Africa, which drafted and adopted the proposed NRS 048-9 Edition 3, in June. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) published the draft document for public consultation, earlier this month. 

The proposed Edition 3 provides protocols for an increase in rolling blackouts from the current 8 stages to 16 stages, with 24 hours of rolling blackouts occuring in a 32-hour period if South Africa were to reach Stage 16. Under Stage 6 rolling blackouts — the highest Stage the country has reached to date — customers can expect to be shed up to 12 times over a four-day period. 

Stage 16 rolling blackouts

Vehicles travel along a darkened street without lighting during a power outage in central Johannesburg, South Africa, on 13 February, 2023. (Photo: Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg)

If approved, the NRS 048-9 Code of Practice Edition 3 would implement the current Edition 2, which regulates rolling blackouts up to Stage 8.

The document, “NRS 048-9 Electricity Supply — Quality of Supply: Code of Practice — Load reduction practices, system restoration practices, and critical load and essential load requirements under system emergencies,” has been published for public comment. 

The public and other stakeholders have until 22 September to make submissions on the document.

After all consultation processes have finished and Nersa has considered all relevant comments, the document will be approved for implementation as the NRS 048-9 Code of Practice Edition 3. This means, it would replace the current NRS 048-9 Code of Practice Edition 2, which regulates the “current load shedding or load reduction practices, system restoration practices and critical load and essential load requirements under power system emergencies.” 

The original NRS 048-9 Edition 1 was published in 2010 after the need for such a code arose when rolling blackouts first hit the country in 2008. It regulated rolling blackouts up to Stage 4. 

Since 2010, South Africa has continued to be crippled by power cuts, as Eskom’s ageing and poorly maintained fleet of coal-fired power stations’ ability to provide power steadily worsened. Speaking to Daily Maverick on Wednesday, Padayachee said the NRS began working on the current Code of Practice Edition 2, in 2017. 

Nersa approved the NRS 048-9 Edition 2 in 2019, which regulates rolling blackouts up to Stage 8. 

South Africa is enduring its worst year for power cuts by Eskom. In May, the power utility warned of possible Stage 7 and 8 outages this winter. But the country has not reached Stage 8 rolling blackouts to date, which would mean rotational power cuts of up to 16 hours in a 32-hour cycle.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Brace yourself for a long, cold, dark winter as SA teeters on the edge of Stage 7/8 rolling blackouts

Since Eskom’s coal-fired power generation fleet has deteriorated to a degree which may necessitate higher stages of rolling blackouts, Padayachee — in a statement in March 2023 — said the NRS had deemed it necessary to begin revising the NRS 048-9 Edition 2 Code of Practice. 

“NRS 048-09 is a necessary revision of the Code because, since 2019, the performance of Eskom generation’s fleet coal-fired power stations has deteriorated to a level which may now necessitate National Central Control (NCC) and/or the [System Operator] to institute higher levels of load shedding beyond Stage 8,” said Padayachee.  

Stage 16 rolling blackouts

Slow-moving vehicles line the streets as traffic lights stand without power during a power outage period in Pretoria, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The NRS Association, through its NRS 048-9 Work Group, is currently at an advanced stage in revising the current Edition 2 of the NRS 048-9 Code of Practice. This proposed revision will include planning and associated risk mitigation measures to implement load shedding beyond Stage 8, and could incorporate the whole base load, if necessary,” he continued. 

The draft NRS 048-9 Edition 3 was adopted by the NRS Association in June 2023, and has now been released by Nersa to conduct a public consultation process on the proposed code of practice. 

Stage 16 not a certainty

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Padayachee insisted that the proposed Edition 3 should not raise alarm, and should not be viewed as an indication that Stage 16 rolling blackouts are inevitable. 

“Given the protocols we have in the system and the safety mechanisms we have in place — it’s very unlikely that we will get to Stage 16,” he said. But the draft NRS 048-9 Edition 3, he said, “prudently and professionally” prepares the System Operator for if there ever was an escalation in load shedding beyond Stage 8. 

“If we had to go beyond Stage 8, then we would run into what we call ‘emergency mode or contingency mode’ because we don’t currently have formalised plans beyond Stage 8, under Edition 2,” he said. 

The draft NRS 048-9 Edition 3 provides “formalised protocols” for beyond Stage 8, which takes away the emergency and the contingency measures. DM

Written comments can be sent to [email protected]; hand-delivered to Kulawula House, 526 Madiba Street, Arcadia, Pretoria, 0083; or posted to P.O. Box 40343, Arcadia, 0007, Pretoria, South Africa.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Trevor Jones says:

    Can’t say I’m impressed by all this.
    I’m a swallow, there in SA twice a year for three months. We have a “lock up & go”, one bedroom flat there, and a two bedroom flat in the UK, where the climate is a lot less benign.
    Our SA electricity bills per month are bigger there than here, for a much smaller place.

    If the Maverick can expose those syphoning off money, how can the authorities there not haul the culprits off to jail?

  • Bryan Bailey says:

    All we hear about is load shedding and as to stage 16 preparation IS ALARMING as we know nothing of what is happening on the ground as to what is being done to the various power stations especially Kusile and Medupi which have design and installation defects and that the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Gwede Mantashe is ANTI GREEN Energy, in favour of COAL. If when the load shedding started, what 15 years ago and efforts were made to start to rectify the problems, , Stage 16 WOULD NOT be on the table. We have 1 man holding the country to ransom, which by basic reasonableness is un acceptable and we as South Africans must start making his life miserable. Reading Andre De Ruyter’s book “Truth to Power” in its self IS ALARMING. With the on going corruption, there is NO money to carry out repairs and that is most likely the reason for preparing Stage 16. We are increasingly doomed.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    So much for the ANC and Energy Minister’s promises that electricity supply will improve. The corruption and gangsterism that surrounds Electricity generation is staggering. However to look at going beyond stage 8 is an acknowledgement of how useless the ANC is in combating corruption and also in forward planning. De Ruyter at least understood the problems and put forward proposals to remedy the situation while acknowledging that time would be needed and it must be well planned and executed

  • Hilary Morris says:

    There’s no need to panic, there’s no need to panic, there’s no need…………. What the hell goes on in government? Surely if there’s no need (etc), why the hell is it even being considered. Just declare stage 50 and shut up shop!

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Don’t try reading these at night.

  • And YET, every month, Eskom continues to charge households the full daily rate for their so-called Service & Admin and Network Capacity Charges.
    Would love for a mathematician to work out the value of these Eskom charges that in essence are not received. If a household has no electricity due to loadshedding for let’s say, 12 hours a day x 10 days for the month, in theory that household should receive a credit for a non-full day of service charges. Like the old Telkom landline days. The phone was not working, you’d phone Telkom, advise them from when the phone was not working [and they’d somehow check] and with the next month’s statement, there’d be a credit.
    It’s probably not a huge value / amount per household, but collectively it probably is. “Silently stealing from us.” [nice headline! Haha]

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