What Stage 20 load-shedding would look like

Just because Eskom’s current load-shedding schedules stop at stage 8 does not mean that it is the maximum level of power cuts it can implement before the grid collapses.

Several energy experts and Eskom’s own System Operator have explained that the utility can go beyond stage 8 if the need arises.

Hohm Energy business intelligence and public relations head Matthew Cruise recently told radio station 702 that Eskom could even handle something as extreme as stage 20 load-shedding.

“Theoretically, you could go up to stage 20, because each stage represents 1,000 megawatts that’s unserved in the market,” Cruise said.

Assuming a peak demand of 28,000 megawatts, and in a scenario where Eskom experienced a catastrophic breakdown of power plants, he said it could shed 20,000 megawatts of electricity from the grid.

“What would happen is all loads that are representing demand on the grid would be removed,” said Cruise.

That way, Eskom would use its remaining stations to power the lines and each other.

“They’d flip over to an islanding state where they just produce enough power to power the [stations] and keep the lines active,” he said.

“I don’t foresee a big South Africa-wide blackout taking place — at least for the next three years — but I do see this going above stage 8 load-shedding, as it is just an arbitrary level.”

Brace for Stage 10

Cruise said there was a 50% likelihood from July that Eskom would need to institute greater than stage 8 load-shedding.

He explained that under stage 6 load-shedding, South Africans see outages of between 10 and 12 hours per day.

Under stage 8, this would increase to outages between 12 and 14 hours long.

“I don’t see it getting better next year, or the next either, unfortunately.”

Eskom’s energy availability statistics show that the state-owned utility’s coal power stations are becoming increasingly unreliable.

“We’re definitely in a downward trend that doesn’t seem to be stopping, so we could go past stage 8 this year,” Cruise said.

Eskom total week-on-week energy availability factor (EAF), from Week 1, 2016 to Week 51, 2022. (Data source: Eskom; Graph: EE Business Intelligence)

Cruise said there’s about a 20% chance that Eskom would announce stage 8 and beyond between now and July.

“In July is when we have our winter peak demand. That demand is between 32,000 and 34,000 megawatts total for the nation,” he said.

“At the moment, our peak demand is sitting between 26,000 and 28,000 megawatts that’s being underserved and not being met — and that’s in summertime.”

Cruise said if you add the extra winter demand to Eskom’s current levels of load-shedding, it’s clear South Africa is going to stage 8 and beyond.

“Theoretically, it goes up to stage 10,” he said. “Stage 10 is definitely a distinct possibility,” he said.

Now read: Eskom could be load-shedding at stage 3 or stage 2 — economists

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What Stage 20 load-shedding would look like