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Fact Check — Has load shedding stopped because of the elections?

Fact Check — Has load shedding stopped because of the elections?
(Illustrative image: Candle: Vecteezy | Lightbulb: Image by Starline / Freepik)

The DA suspects Eskom of playing a power game to keep the lights on until after the May 29 elections, but experts say there's more to the improved electricity situation than just burning through diesel.

In a statement released by the Democratic Alliance (DA) in late April, the opposition party expressed what many people suspect to be the case: the claim that “Eskom may be manipulating the power supply ecosystem to keep the lights on at all costs until May 29”.

South Africa has now had an uninterrupted electricity supply for over a month — which, depressingly, is the longest period without load shedding since 2022.

Naturally, people are suspicious about the timing — the general elections are now less than a month away — and it was previously believed that load shedding as an electoral issue was going to cost the ANC badly.

So, is the governing party somehow managing to rig the system to keep load shedding at bay until May 29 — after which things will return to darkness as usual?

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If the government was indeed managing to manipulate the situation to artificially create the perception that load shedding is decreasing, its only real means of doing that is by burning diesel.

Diesel is needed to fuel Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines, which are only supposed to be used in emergencies or situations of peak demand, because of the cost of burning diesel.

The concern is, to quote the DA, that Eskom is “creating an illusion of improved electricity supply” by “burning copious quantities of diesel”.

Obviously, Eskom and Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa deny that this is the case.

They say that the electricity situation has improved over the last little while for a number of reasons.

One is that the performance of power plants has improved, as energy analyst Chris Yelland confirmed on X, writing: “I do think it is a notable and commendable achievement by Eskom that unplanned breakdowns are stable this year at levels that are consistently lower than those of last year.”

Another reason is that three units at Kusile Power Station have come back on to the grid — although this may only be temporary. Cooler weather also generally helps the performance of South Africa’s coal-fired power stations.

There has also been a documented decrease in demand for Eskom’s electricity supply because many houses and businesses have turned to solar, and also because the economy is in a slump in general.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eskom forecasts ‘light’ load shedding in winter after 30-day break from rolling blackouts

Independent experts agree that these are the major factors driving the improvement in the load shedding situation.

And while it is true that Eskom continues to spend billions on burning diesel — R23.4-billion in the last financial year, to be precise — it has spent less on diesel in April 2024 than it did in April 2023. It’s not clear if this is a consistent picture, however, as it spent more on diesel in March 2024 than it did in March 2023.

But experts seem to agree that the burning of diesel is not the most significant contributor to the currently improved load shedding situation.

There is little doubt that Eskom officials and the Minister of Electricity are under tremendous pressure to improve the electricity crisis for political reasons as much as anything else. But it should be noted that even the Minister has said explicitly that load shedding is not over.

“No Eskom official can put their hand on their heart and say tomorrow morning we will continue to have no load shedding, because there’s a lot of instability — anything can happen tomorrow,” Minister Ramokgopa told a recent media briefing. DM

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