S.Africa: Electricity Crisis: Eskom is running out of load shedding stages – fast
Unless some serious interventions take place, current trends point to Eskom running out of load shedding stages to escalate to around August 2023.
According to a new technical analysis from independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, the daily mean load shedding stage – or, the average stage for the day – has been increasing steadily since July 2022 when it closed at stage 4 for the first time.
Since then, the average has hit stage 4 as many as 52 times up to the end of February 2023, and is steadily climbing higher.
Plotting the averages over a medium-term load shedding trend – a 91 day moving average of the daily mean stage – shows that the load shedding mean is trending upwards, and without any significant interventions, could break through stage 8 in August 2023.
According to Jordaan, there have been some deviations from the trend – most notably the labour unrest Eskom experienced in the middle of 2022 which pushed South Africa into stage 6 for the first time in years.
There was also a deviation when Eskom ran out of diesel in November 2022 and during the holidays at the start of 2023 – but in each case, the rolling average has returned to the trendline, he said.
Plotting the weekly averages, Jordaan’s data shows that the labour unrest in 2022 was the start of load shedding escalation in South Africa.
“There was a departure from the previous norm, starting around the time of the labour unrest,” he said. “Prior to that event, emergency conditions would produce weekly mean stages of between 1 and 2. However from then onward, emergency levels rapidly started to escalate.”
During 2022 emergencies, the weekly mean stage was 3.8 on 3 July, 4.8 on 25 September and 5.2 on 18 December 2022. These records were eclipsed with stage 5.8 on 26 February 2023.
Jordaan’s data points to another disturbing trend: there is no longer a recovery to stage 0.
South Africa has been in a near-permanent stage of load shedding since September 2022. While Eskom tried to suspend load shedding on two separate days at the start and end of October, it has been unable to fully prevent load shedding since then.
On 2 March, the country has been load shed for 123 consecutive days.
“Before September 2022, weekly emergency mean stages recovered to zero within a week or two. After September 2022, the recovery points – or, the lowest point after a new high point – have crept upwards in a straight line,” the analyst said.
The emergency creep – or the time between each new high point in the average load shedding stage – is 105 days. The recovery creep – the new lowest point – is increasing at a faster rate at 50 days.
In effect, this means that South Africa is seeing a new highest point of load shedding every 105 days, but the recovery point is getting worse, climbing higher every 50 days.
The centre line between these trends projects that South Africa will experience one higher stage of load shedding every 68 days, converging by the end of August 2023 above stage 7.
“From the analysis and projections, it is evident that Eskom cannot continue the above trends without revising their schedules to higher levels,” Jordaan said.
“However, Eskom’s dilemma is that higher levels of load shedding impacts the revenue they must earn to restore generating capacity, and Eskom has already sold 25% less energy to its premium rate customers in 2023, due to load shedding,” he said.
Eskom has confirmed that it is currently in the process of revising its load shedding schedules, with the System Operator working with relevant authorities to review the regulations that govern load shedding.
The plans to change the schedules will include adding more load shedding stages, though it has not been confirmed up to which level they will ultimately go. The process also has a way to go still, needing approvals from regulators and inputs from various stakeholders.
Economists and analysts have warned that despite promises from the government to get new capacity online and having load shedding resolved within two years – or even sooner – South Africans should expect the situation to get worse, particularly in the coming months as the country heads into winter and energy demand shoots up.