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Scepticism lingers despite respite: Questions arise over long-term power supply stability

Azra Hoosen |
19 April 2024 | 16:30 CAT
3 min read

Eskom has not enforced load-shedding for nearly 23 days, marking its longest respite from power cuts since December 2023. This has spurred speculation among the public about potential interference by the ruling party, which indirectly influences certain aspects of Eskom’s operations.

The power utility attributes the prolonged period without load shedding to sustained generation capacity, sufficient emergency reserves, and decreased electricity demand.

Despite the extended break from load shedding, scepticism prevails among the community, with lingering questions regarding the sustainability and underlying factors influencing the country’s power supply.

Certain South Africans speculate that the hiatus in load shedding is a strategic manoeuvre by the ANC as the upcoming general elections approach.

In early April, Nersa approved and released the third edition of the NRS 048-9 Code of Practice, introducing modifications to the country’s load-shedding framework. The most significant change is the extension of load shedding stages up to stage 16. Under the new structure, the full load (excluding the 20% critical load) is divided into load-shedding blocks. Stage 16 represents the new maximum level, resulting in a complete power outage for a continuous 32-hour cycle.

Vally Padayachee, power and energy expert and chairperson of the National Rationalised Specifications (NRS) Association management committee asserts that the probability of South Africa experiencing stage 16 load shedding is extremely low. However, energy regulator Nersa’s recent approval of new stages ensures that a plan is now in place should such an eventuality occur.

Padayachee shared his professional opinion on the current load-shedding situation in an interview with Radio Islam.

“You have about 22 days, that’s about 530 hours of no load-shedding, which is quite commendable and hopefully sustainable. At the very outset, it is due to sustain the generation and adequate emergency reserves. The demand is quite low at this time of year, and Eskom has brought back units from Kusile. We must also recognise the good work done by Eskom’s generation and other stakeholders, including the private sector,” he said.

However, Padaychee, in his expert opinion, believes this may be short-lived because the grid is still unstable and erratic due to on- and off-load shedding.

“Firstly, it’s common knowledge that the energy variability factor, a key parameter for performance indication, is very low at the moment. It needs to be about 55 – 70 % to be out of the woods,” he said.

Padaychee emphasised that Eskom also lacks what he terms a “significant reserve margin” or “edge room.” He highlighted the insufficient reserve margins, noting that they often fall into negative quantities in most cases.

“Eskom has been doing significant planned maintenance, which is commendable, but I am not sure that all the units done on planned maintenance are done properly. Maybe some, because admittedly, the contractors are also under pressure to return units to the system operations people very quickly. As humans, they could be cutting corners,” he said.

As we approach winter, Padaychee suggested the low demand is expected to rise, posing concerns about the potential mismatch between demand and supply.

He asserted that while increased levels of load shedding may occur during winter, there will not be a total blackout or grid collapse.

He believes that load shedding serves as an effective management tool to avert a blackout. Furthermore, he reassured that higher stages of load shedding do not necessarily indicate imminent blackout conditions, highlighting that South Africa has not experienced a blackout in over 100 years.

LISTEN to the full interview with Ml Sulaimaan Ravat and Vally Padayachee, power and energy expert and chairperson of the National Rationalised Specifications (NRS) Association management committee, here.


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