Why Eskom’s Gauteng power cuts are not load-shedding

Eskom has been implementing what it calls “load reduction” in certain areas in Gauteng over the past month, cutting power to selected high-density residential areas during peak hours.

The national power utility has been careful to separate this practice from load-shedding, which it has assured South Africans will not be a major threat over the winter season.

Eskom began restricting the power supply in certain areas in Gauteng on 12 May during peak periods between 05:00 and 09:00, and between 17:00 and 20:00.

This was done to address abnormally high energy demand during these periods, which threatened to cause damage to the power utility’s electricity infrastructure.

This demand was attributed in part to the high number of illegal connections in many areas around the province.

“It is prudent for us to take deliberate measures to significantly reduce the extremely high costs associated with repeated equipment failure resulting from overloading, which costs more as the power is indiscriminately used during peak periods,” Eskom said.

“This unprecedented measure is necessary to contain the situation.”

This practice, which Eskom subsequently referred to as the “load reduction initiative” proved to be effective at reducing the failure rate of its equipment in affected areas.

In an update on 20 May, Eskom said that it was recording fewer explosions and failures at its substations and transformers.

“The measures we have put in place are curbing these failures. As a response to the overloading, we urge our customers in particularly high-density areas and those with multiple and/or backyard dwellings to use only essential energy in an effort to avoid load reductions and prolonged outages due to network faults, as a result of overloading,” Eskom said.

Why it’s not load-shedding

Like load-shedding, load reduction involves the controlled restriction of the electricity supply. Also like load-shedding, it is implemented on a rotational basis and is dependant on demand.

MyBroadband asked Eskom whether the “load reduction” terminology it uses to refer to these power supply restrictions was similar – semantically or functionally – to load-shedding.

In its response, Eskom emphasised the purpose for which its load reduction was implemented in Gauteng.

While load-shedding is implemented to cope with a higher electricity demand than can be met by the national grid’s capacity, load reduction is implemented in targeted areas to safeguard Eskom’s infrastructure.

“Load reduction is an initiative aimed and protecting Eskom’s assets by reducing load during peak hours in the high-density residential areas of Gauteng, which have high incidences of illegal connections and overloading,” Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshansha told MyBroadband.

“These illegal connections and overloading, particularly where you have multiple households connecting through the main house, cause transformers and mini-substations to explode under the heavy unregulated weight.”

The areas targeted by Eskom’s load reduction initiative experience high levels of infrastructure failures due to illegal connections, which results in long power outages.

“This load reduction is implemented on a rotational basis in order to curb rising costs,” Mantshansha said.

Restrictions and safeguarding infrastructure

Eskom’s load reduction strategy implements periodic, shorter power outages during peak hours in specific areas where high demand usually causes severe damage to the power utility’s infrastructure.

“Eskom’s solution to this is to restrict supply to these areas during the peak hours in the morning and the evening, when most explosions and other damage to the infrastructure occurs,” Mantshansha said.

“This is in line with our priorities of containing operational costs, plant performance, and collecting revenue for services rendered.”

He added that Eskom has a responsibility to protect and safeguard its infrastructure and to ensure that its hardware runs efficiently and within its design capabilities.

“Eskom will continuously monitor the developments to determine any improvements, and will continue conducting audits, remove illegal connections and act against meter tampering, as well as impose penalties for any transgression,” Mantshansha said.

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Why Eskom’s Gauteng power cuts are not load-shedding