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Cape Town - The dark days of load shedding are back and South Africans are scrambling to ensure they know exactly when they may find themselves without electricity.

Power utility Eskom implemented Stage 2 load shedding on Monday morning but announced that it is moving to Stage 4 from 2pm until 10pm. This has huge implications for ordinary consumers and businesses alike.

Understanding the different load-shedding stages, and how to prepare for them, is vital to helping households cope with the impact of the power cuts. The stages are on a sliding scale with Stage 1 being the least disruptive and Stage 4 allowing for longer, and more frequent power disruptions.

Here's how the different load-shedding stages work:

Stage 1 - Requires the least amount of load shedding (up to 1000 MW) and can be implemented 3 times over a 4-day period for two hours at a time, or 3 times over an 8-day period for 4 hours at a time.

Stage 2 - You will be scheduled for load shedding 6 times over a 4-day period for two hours at a time, or 6 times over an 8-day period for four hours at a time

Stage 3 - Will increase the frequency of Stage 2 by 50%. You will be scheduled for load shedding 9 times over a 4-day period for two hours at a time, or 9 times over an 8-day period for four hours at a time.

Stage 4 - You will be scheduled for load shedding 12 times over a 4-day period for two hours at a time, or 12 times over an 8-day period for four hours at a time.

If more load needs to be shed than has been scheduled in Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 then National Control will instruct additional, unscheduled load shedding. This means you may be shed outside of your scheduled times.

To prevent a nationwide blackout, Eskom needs to maintain the national power grid at the international standard of 50Hz, and when the grid is under pressure with normal measures implemented, Eskom must reduce demand, as agreed with the National Energy Regulator (Nersa).

Eskom then implements a process of load reduction which has two components:

Load Curtailment - The utility can instruct industrial clients to reduce electricity consumption when it is urgent to balance the system. This can reduce the load by up to 20%, significantly easing capacity on the grid but it can take up to two hours to implement.

Load Shedding - Load curtailment fails to ease the demand on the system, or there is not enough time to notify industrial clients of the need to reduce their consumption, Eskom implements load shedding to prevent an imbalance and subsequent blackout.

* Read more #Loadshedding stories here.

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