'2023 to be the darkest year yet' as energy experts expect the worse rate of load shedding on record

Yonga Bhungane rests while illuminated by candle light during load shedding

File Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Published Mar 15, 2023

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Durban - Energy experts say at the current trajectory of high-level blackouts in the country, this year is on schedule to be the worst year on record, and will have a significant impact on businesses, consumers, and food production prices.

A Council of Scientific and Industrial Research report indicates that, up until now, last year had been the worst year of load shedding.

However, experts say Eskom’s continuing maintenance breakdowns and the need for additional capacity, combined with alternative stages of between 4 and 5 or higher, mean South Africans are in for a tough year ahead.

The report, “Statistics of utility scale power generation in South Africa 2022”, released last month, said that last year, there was load shedding for 3 773 hours with an upper limit of 11 529 GWh relative to actual energy shed of 8 301 GWh.

“Intensive load shedding has been experienced – load shedding mostly stage 4 type – occurred for 43% of the hours (in the year).”

The report added that the Energy Availability Factor (EAF) declining trend continued and drove load-shedding events in 2022 with specific concerns surrounding UCLF (unplanned outages) trends.

The CSIR report said the EAF had dropped last year by 13% compared to 2018 while unplanned outages last year stood at 29.8%.

The best hourly EAF was 68.2% occurring on 24 July 2022 and the worst was 45.4% on 31 Dec 2022. Energy economist Lungile Mashele, said last year the country experienced load shedding that was cumulatively higher than the preceding decade.

“According to the CSIR, 2022 was characterised by persistent stage 4 load shedding.”

Mashele said this year had already exceeded the most consecutive days of load shedding on record.

“We have also been load shedding at stage 6 for an extended period. The stages of load shedding are also increasing, indicating a constrained grid and failure to adequately diagnose and fix UCLF.

“We can expect load shedding every week this year and it will get worse in winter. We can also anticipate higher stages of load shedding.”

David Lipschitz, an energy resilience expert and author of the book

said Eskom’s inability to supply business with power, would be catastrophic for the country.

“2022 had been the worst year ever if one only includes the first 68 days of a year. In my humble opinion, the faster distributed and embedded generation is installed, the faster Eskom can be able to supply its core customers who employ most of the people in South Africa.”

Professor Wikus van Niekerk, dean of engineering at Stellenbosch University and the acting director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, said it was impossible to make an accurate prediction on the year ahead, as Eskom does not even know which power stations may trip, forcing them to a higher level of load shedding.

“At the same time they may be able to, although it is unlikely, increase the so-called EAF by some concerted effort and through effective interventions at the power stations. However, if you recall, we did not have a single day without load shedding this year and that there has not been any improvement in the EAF.”

Van Niekerk added load shedding currently was the worst it had ever been. “The more plausible prediction is that load shedding will be significantly worse than in 2022.”

Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, of the University of Zululand’s economics department, said load shedding in 2022 saw a 200% increase compared with the average for previous years.

“It was the worst in history. It is great the government has placed a minister of electricity, however, credible plans have to be put forward regarding the turnaround. Load shedding is expected to continue for another two years and diminish gradually.

“However, with unexpected breakdowns and sabotage, we are expecting the worst until the government comes up with convincing and sustainable solutions.”

Mervyn Abrahams, programme co-ordinator at Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, said consumers would struggle with food purchases this year. “This will have a major impact on the consumer as they will not be able to buy food in bulk as they won’t be able to keep food for long periods of time due to fear that it will get spoiled.”

Abrahams added load shedding would cause prices to increase.

“Fuel increases have already caused the price of food to go up. To add to this the more load shedding we have, will undoubtedly cause the price of food to go up.

“We also have the Eskom electricity tariff increase of over 18%, granted by Nersa, that will come into effect this year and unfortunately wages and salaries are not increasing at the same time, leading to more hard times for the consumer.”

THE MERCURY