Expect the worst load-shedding South Africa has ever seen

Energy expert Chris Yelland said South Africa experienced the worst load-shedding on record in 2020 and that he expects 2021 to be even worse.

Speaking to Biznews, Yelland said the reality is that Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF), which is a measure of the availability of Eskom current fleet of power stations, is declining year on year.

“The best thing that I think one can hope for is that Eskom could stabilise this energy availability factor at the current low levels,” said Yelland.

South Africa has already experienced seven days of load-shedding within the first three weeks of the year when demand was low.

As demand for electricity picks up, Eskom’s ageing power generation fleet will be under severe pressure.

The biggest problem is breakdowns. During the most recent bout of load-shedding, 14,748MW of capacity was unavailable due to unplanned maintenance, breakdowns, and outage delays.

The lost capacity because of breakdowns dwarfed the 5,358MW which was unavailable because of planned maintenance.

The fact that most of the lost capacity is caused by unpredictable events makes it nearly impossible for Eskom to accurately forecast load-shedding.

A good example is Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter’s comments in May 2020 that their outlook for the winter season shows little to no load-shedding expected after the lockdown.

The table below shows the three-month outlook for load-shedding in South Africa.

Eskom load-shedding outlook

Possibility of stage 8 load-shedding

Power and mining expert Ted Blom recently said South Africa should brace itself for the worst year of load-shedding yet in 2021, with Stage 8 being a possibility.

He said Eskom is able to absorb around 11,000MW of electricity shortages before they have to implement load-shedding.

Eskom’s outlook for the next three months shows a near-consistent unavailability of 20,000MW because of planned and unplanned outages.

This will leave Eskom with a deficit of around 9,000MW, which Blom said can result in stage 6 or even stage 8 load-shedding.

Yelland is less pessimistic on Eskom’s load-shedding outlook, saying to expect stage 8 load-shedding is alarmist.

“You can’t write it off. But to say that we are heading for that is premature. But as I say, it’s not impossible, but I don’t think it’s likely,” Yelland said.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha added that their maintenance plan makes provision for 14,000MW of breakdowns.

“That will give us stage 2 or stage 3 load-shedding. In the worst-case scenario we have prepared for stage 4 load-shedding with 15,000MW of breakdowns,” he said.

“For stage 8 load-shedding to occur will require a lot of breakages of Eskom’s equipment – north of 20,000MW. We have not seen that.”

Eskom said they are not working towards a scenario where Eskom will have to implement stage 8 load-shedding.

The situation will not improve anytime soon

Yelland said he does not expect the problem of electricity shortages and load-shedding to improve in the short term.

“Government procurements of new generation capacity, that means the so-called 2000 megawatts of risk mitigation IPP programme, is about to be adjudicated,” he said.

“But then still, orders have to be placed and financial closure has to be achieved – that can typically take six months.”

After these processes, delivery must happen, construction must be done, and the new power must be connected to the grid.

Yelland said the government is touting the end of 2022 for this to happen, but he thinks it is very optimistic.

“I don’t think we can see any improvement before the end of 2022, perhaps even longer,” he said.

Compounding these challenges is that there is currently a leadership vacuum which means people are not making decisions timelessly.

“I think there are some agendas within the regulator and within the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy that are trying to hold back the uptake of distributed renewable energy,” said Yelland.

“There are some internal political agendas that are trying to slow this uptake. This has to be addressed at the highest level.”

Yelland said South African households and businesses should not rely on Eskom for their future electricity needs.

Instead, they should invest in solar and generators to ensure they are not left in the dark when load-shedding hits.

Eskom load-shedding from 2007 to 2020

The table below provides an overview of the number of days of load-shedding and the amount of power shed since 2007.

Year Load-shedding (number of days)
2007 13
2008 44
2009 0
2010 0
2011 0
2012 0
2013 3
2014 17
2015 103
2016 0
2017 0
2018 15
2019 30
2020 52
Year Load-shedding (TWh)
2007 0.10
2008 0.77
2009 0.00
2010 0.00
2011 0.00
2012 0.00
2013 0.03
2014 0.29
2015 1.40
2016 0.00
2017 0.00
2018 0.22
2019 1.09
2020 1.27

Now read: Eskom Stage 8 load-shedding possible, warns Ted Blom

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Expect the worst load-shedding South Africa has ever seen