Brace for Winter Blackouts: Record Load Shedding Looms in South Africa

Dark Winter
  1. South Africa is facing potentially record-breaking winter load shedding as energy demand surges, with power outages predicted to reach unprecedented levels during the colder months.
  2. Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has proposed using open-cycle gas turbines as a temporary solution, but critics argue that these measures are insufficient to address the crisis in the long term.
  3. The state-owned power utility Eskom faces significant financial challenges, including the need to spend its entire proposed diesel budget within six months, putting further strain on the company and raising concerns about its ability to manage future load shedding.

South Africa is bracing for what could be the worst winter load shedding in its history, with power outages predicted to reach unprecedented levels. As the nation moves into colder months, energy experts are cautioning that the situation is unlikely to improve significantly once winter is over, and that state-owned power utility Eskom’s resources are wearing thin.

During the winter months, South Africa experiences an increase in daily peak electricity consumption from an average of 32,000MW in summer to 36,000MW, due to the widespread use of electrical heating devices, lights, and geysers. According to researchers and analysts, the power shortage during the middle of winter may be 2,000MW greater than in 2022, potentially leading to power outages of up to 8,000MW, which is equivalent to stage 8 load shedding, on some days.

Some experts present an even bleaker outlook, suggesting that demand could reach as high as 37,000MW, while Eskom is currently struggling to consistently generate 27,000MW. This would result in a 10,000MW (stage 10) shortfall that would need to be compensated for through load shedding.

In an effort to stave off load shedding in the near term, the Democratic Alliance reports that Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has proposed the use of open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) to supplement Eskom’s generating capacity. However, OCGTs are typically employed as temporary solutions during maintenance or breakdowns and are not intended as a permanent answer to Eskom’s supply issues.

Energy regulator Nersa has also expressed concerns about relying on OCGTs and has limited Eskom’s diesel budget for energy generation for this very reason. The Democratic Alliance highlights that to maintain load shedding at a manageable level during the winter months, Eskom would need to expend its entire proposed diesel budget for the fiscal year within six months, costing approximately R30 billion.

Furthermore, the Democratic Alliance points out that Eskom may face difficulties in securing additional funds for diesel after the winter, potentially requiring even more money from the government. This comes on top of the more than R250 billion debt takeover from the National Treasury and billions more expected to be paid for debt relief for municipalities.

While Eskom and Minister Ramokgopa continue to search for solutions to the load shedding crisis, the utility faces backlash from various sources, with critics arguing that the proposed interventions are not novel and have been ongoing for years. Hugo Pienaar, chief economist at the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University, said that little can be done in the short term to address South Africa’s electricity deficit and improve load shedding.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his latest weekly newsletter, emphasized that Eskom is taking extra precautions to limit outages during the winter months when electricity demand is expected to surge. He also called on consumers to contribute to reducing demand by turning off home appliances and devices like geysers during peak times.

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