Experts, analysts and even Eskom itself are warning South Africans to brace for higher stages of load shedding.
The embattled power utility announced on Sunday night (19 Febraury) that further breakdowns at its power stations have necessitated continuous stage 6 load shedding to be in effect until further notice.
In its alert, the group warned that “given the high number of breakdowns, there is a possibility of further changes on the stages of loadshedding at short notice.”
The return of all-day stage 6 load shedding is troubling, as the weekend sees lower demand – and the country is still in its summer months, which also have lower demand patterns.
While Eskom has tried to assure the nation and instil confidence that the supply and demand patterns will change and be more favourable as the country approaches winter – due to less planned maintenance taking place – analysts and energy experts have warned that the situation is likely to get worse.
According to the Bureau for Economic Research, the electricity situation in South Africa remains dire.
The National Energy Crisis Committee (Necom) announced last week that Eskom has ample diesel supplies for now – which is helping shield the country from up to two stages of load-shedding during peak hours.
This means without the diesel-powered tubines, South Africa would already be at stage 8.
Intellidex analysts Peter Attard Montalto predicted back in January that stage 6 load shedding would be likely in February – a prediction that has now proven true – adding that stage 7 load shedding is coming up next by July, in the middle of winter.
Other energy experts have warned that the country will hit stage 8 – and beyond – by the middle of the year, given the winter demand and failing power availability from Eskom.
According to Eskom’s former general manager of system operations, Robbie van Heerden, South Africans should prepare for load-shedding to continue for many more years, including stage 8 power cuts this winter.
Stage 6 load shedding is the highest level of outages introduced in South Africa so far – however, economists have argued that blackouts have been higher when factoring in load curtailment on heavy industrial users.
There were serious concerns over an official move to stage 7 in December 2022, when Eskom took unit 1 of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station offline. The station is the most reliable in Eskom’s fleet, and each of its two units produces close to 1,000MW of power.
More positively, the BER noted that despite recent heavy rainfall, Eskom was not battling with wet coal disrupting generation as it has in recent years.
However, Eskom reported over the weekend that coal supplies to Lethabo power station were being disrupted due to heavy rains.
As South Africa is again thrust into stage 6 load shedding, questions are being asked about the government’s response to the crisis.
During his State of the Nation Address in early February, president Cyril Ramaphosa declared the power crisis a national state of disaster, saying the move would allow the national government to act with urgency to deal with the problem and protect the grid from collapse.
Government departments are yet to announce any new measures under the banner of the disaster.
The president also announced that he would appoint a new minister of electricity, whose sole focus will be to end load shedding. However, the president is yet to announce who will be filling this role, and has reportedly put off making changes to his cabinet until the end of the month.
One positive move, according the BER, which shows some semblance of progress being made, is that Nersa has given its final approval for the license required by the Eskom transmission entity, which is due to operate independently by end March.
This is another slow step in splitting Eskom into three different companies – although it has little bearing on the immediate crisis.
“We still await more details regarding the (electricity) minister’s role ahead of the pending cabinet reshuffle,” the BER said.