The next electricity crisis that could replace load-shedding as main reason for solar and backup power

The recent long reprieve in load-shedding might not be a good enough reason to put off investing in self-generating and backup power.

As of 13 June 2024, Eskom had not implemented load-shedding for about two and a half months, the longest period without rotational power cuts since mid-2021.

Eskom’s improved performance will likely have many questioning the benefit of spending thousands of rands on solar and backup power.

However, aside from the fact that Eskom’s generating fleet generally remains volatile and susceptible to sudden changes in demand and unit trips, a solar and backup system will remain a good investment in many cases.

Firstly, load-shedding is not the only type of power outage happening in South Africa.

Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has warned that municipal grid collapse will be the next crisis for power provision in South Africa, as last-mile electricity distribution has not received the same funding and attention as transmission and generation.

Many municipalities struggle with ageing infrastructure, cable theft, and equipment vandalism, often leaving large areas without power for multiple days.

Poor finances and a lack of skills exacerbate the issues, leaving municipalities struggling to procure and install the necessary equipment to replace faulty hardware.

“We know many municipalities are illiquid and not in a position to meet their financial obligations as a result of an eroding revenue base. I think the situation is going to become acute,” Ramokgopa warned.

EE Business Intelligence managing director Chris Yelland has issued similar warnings.

He explained that many outages were due to inadequately maintained or upgraded local substations.

“This sector really needs much more attention because that is where a big crisis is brewing,” Yelland said.

A first-hand example of solar benefits outside load-shedding

The social media pages of several major metros are frequently updated with acknowledgements of smaller, unscheduled power outages in many wards and neighbourhoods.

One MyBroadband reader in Moreleta Park in Pretoria said their suburb experienced at least eight power outages unrelated to load-shedding since April 2024.

Below are the days on which the outages occurred and what caused them:

  • 9 April 2024 — Unexplained issues at Holgate substation and Moreleta substation cause 1-hour outage
  • 14 April 2024 — Trip at Njala substation causes multi-hour outage
  • 15 April 2024 — Unexplained issues at Holgate substation and Moreleta substation cause 2-hour outage
  • 17 April 2024 — Unexplained issues at Mooikloof substation cause 2-hour outage
  • 18 April 2024 — Mookloof substation fires causes multi-hour outage
  • 21 April 2024 — Cable theft causes prolonged outage
  • 23 April 2024 — Unexplained issues at Holgate substation and Moreleta substation cause outage
  • 27 May 2024 — Trip between Wingate and Moreleta substation causes 4-hour outage

Fortunately for that reader, they had installed a rooftop solar system a few weeks before the first unscheduled power outages began.

They were mainly aware of the outages because they were on a community WhatsApp group, in which many residents complained about the issues.

Controlled load limits and soaring electricity prices

In addition to unscheduled power outages, the cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane recently started implementing load reduction to prevent overloading of their equipment in certain areas rife with illegal connections.

While there is sound logic behind this intervention, the practice also punishes paying customers who happen to be living in those areas.

The fact that illegal connections have become so rife is a failure of governance and policing.

However, there are many cases where technicians have been attacked, hurt, or even killed by community members when trying to unhook illegal connections.

Joburg’s City Power has also threatened to switch off the geysers of households with ripple receivers to reduce strain on its network.

In addition, it will start implementing load limiting outside of load-shedding hours from July 2024.

When Eskom and the city introduced the load-limiting mechanism, it was supposed to only be used when load-shedding was in effect.

That way, customers would still have up to 2.3kW of power during load-shedding.

These users could now be forced to restrict their electricity usage when the city deems their usage to be “high”, even outside their load-shedding slots.

Aside from the issues of unscheduled power outages and controlled load limiting, a solar power system could reduce a household’s electricity bill in the long run.

The price of Eskom’s electricity is expected to continue increasing substantially over the next few years, shortening the time it will take for the savings to make up the initial cost of a system.

Many households and businesses are reducing their reliance on Eskom, eating into its revenues and leaving the utility with a growing proportion of non-paying customers.

Consequently, Eskom is left with little to no choice but to increase tariffs significantly to offset a revenue plunge.

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The next electricity crisis that could replace load-shedding as main reason for solar and backup power