Cape Town-150126-Sea Point Main Road in darkness during routine load shedding. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

Carlo Petersen and Raphael Wolf

WEEKS of largely uninterrupted electricity supply came to an abrupt end yesterday when large parts of the country were plunged into darkness as Eskom implemented load shedding “due to unforeseen technical problems” at power stations.

Eskom had warned earlier that the power grid was severely constrained and load shedding would continue until 10pm, saying customers in all provinces would be affected according to the national load-shedding schedule.

Yesterday’s power disruption happened at least a week before Eskom’s anticipated so-called “summer of load shedding”.

The power utility had warned that the likelihood of load shedding daily would be high during weekdays in February, March and April.

The parastatal appealed to customers yesterday to visit its website for the load- shedding schedule for details on where the power cuts will hit and when.

Initially the electricity provider said: “Due to the electricity demand that exceeded the supply, Eskom implemented load-shedding stage one from 11 to 10pm tonight.”

But after lunchtime, Eskom warned that load shedding had gone into stage two. Areas across the Peninsula were without power for about two-and-a-half hours at a time.

“We are currently load shedding in stage two in some areas due to high demand or urgent maintenance being performed at certain power stations,” Eskom warned on its website.

Stage one load shedding allows for up to 1 000MW of the national load to be shed, stage two for up to 2 000MW and stage three for up to 4 000MW.

The last time the power utility implemented stage two load shedding was on January 9, due to a high demand for electricity and certain generating units being unavailable.

City suburbs affected yesterday included Bellville, Maitland, Somerset West, Mitchells Plain, Hanover Park, Newlands, Ottery, Wynberg, and the city centre and its surrounds.

The disruption to power is likely to continue for the rest of the week.

Pensioner Jean Basson, of Westridge, Mitchells Plain, bemoaned Eskom’s inability to warn customers sufficiently before load shedding occurred.

“What is bad about load shedding is that it can bugger up your electronic appliances that are still on when you’re not at home, because you are supposed to disconnect and pull out all your wall plugs if the power is going to be put off,” she said.

The chairman of the Industrial Focus Portfolio at the Chamber of Commerce, Peter Haylett, said load shedding in residential areas had had a massively negative effect on small businesses.

“Larger businesses can afford to prepare for load shedding, but the smaller businesses suffer because they can’t afford to buy generators,” he said.

“These businesses have often had to close down. Eskom has failed to take responsibility for the maintenance of the power grid and we question whether they have the ability to ever get this right.

“At the moment Eskom does not have the capacity to keep the lights on, and we are also not pleased at the way government has reacted. It seems there have been no lessons learnt from the past.”

Eskom spokesman Andrew Etzinger called on consumers to urgently switch off geysers, air conditioners, pool pumps and all non-essential appliances throughout the day to reduce electricity demand.

“As workers leave office buildings this evening we ask that they please switch off the lights, with the exception of security lighting, and avoid leaving on air-conditioning overnight,” he said.

“Commercial customers, particularly shopping centres and office blocks, can make the biggest difference by switching off non-essential lights, and not leaving office equipment such as photocopiers and computers in standby mode after-hours.

“Eskom will use the published load-shedding schedules which are available on the Eskom website: http://loadshedding.eskom.co.za”

But economist Mike Schüssler said businesses should not use load shedding to blame Eskom for poor economic growth.

“Load shedding is going to happen for some time to come, but big businesses cannot use this as an excuse not to make progress,” he said.

“The drop in the economic growth cannot solely be blamed on Eskom.

“Government knows this is a serious issue and should start investing in alternative power sources.”

Mayco member for utility services Ernest Sonnenberg said: “Load shedding is unfortunately an inconvenient reality to be endured and over which the city has no control.”

Those affected elsewhere in the country took to social media to air their gripes throughout the day yesterday.

[email protected]