South Africa just hit a dark load shedding milestone

At the end of the 29th week of 2023, South Africa has been in complete darkness for the same amount of time as the last five years, combined.

According to the latest Power Availability Statistics, compiled by independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, the 21st of July marked the country’s 1,176th hour of blackouts – equivalent to 49 days, cumulatively.

This 49-day milestone is the same as the total blackout hours in 2022 (34 days), 2021 (7 days), 2020 (5 days) and 2019 (3 days).

The country is also on track to surpass another bleak milestone: when it has accumulated another four days’ worth of outages – all but guaranteed – South Africans will have spent more time in the dark than in the past ten years combined.

Making matters far worse, despite the alleviation in load shedding in the past month – particularly in June – the country is still projected to see a total of 88 days in complete darkness this year (~2112 hours in the dark).

While South Africans more commonly use total hours of load shedding to gauge how bad outages are in the country, Jordaan’s data looks at more impactful points like blackout hours and the Power Availability Ratio (PAR) of the grid.

The blackout hours represent the actual time the average South African spends in the dark – excluding the times that load shedding is ‘in effect’ but waiting around for it to hit.

As it stands, load shedding is in effect for 24 hours a day, but depending on the stage, South Africans will only experience actual blackouts ranging from two (stage 1) to 12 hours (at stage 6).

Put another way, while South Africa has experienced load shedding for 204 days in 2023 so far (totalling 4,330 hours), the total time in actual darkness is cumulatively 49 days, or 1,176 hours.

In effect, around 27% of the year so far has been with zero power.

Load shedding trends

Looking at the wider trends, Jordaan’s data shows that even though South Africans are still seeing near-permanent load shedding, the average stages at which outages are forced on them are easing.

To gauge this, the analyst looks at the Power Availability Ratio (PAR).

PAR represents the time consumers have utility power available after deducting the load shedding outage times, expressed as a percentage.

At 100%, households have full access to grid power. Every 7% below that point represents a full stage of load shedding where power is taken away.

According to Jordaan, the PAR-7 (or weekly average stage of load shedding) managed to recover seven points over the past seven days – ending the week at 77% (average of stage 3).

“The apparent recovery needs to be viewed with caution as load shedding was needed every hour of the week; the first time in eight weeks. The upward momentum of the metric also stalled by week’s end,” the analyst said.

By Monday, the utility had built up a respectable demand buffer of 3.5 GW but subsequent capacity losses had eroded it down to only 2 GW by Friday.

“Moderate power demand over the past week helped to keep load shedding levels subdued, but the current cold spell may change the outlook in the coming week if it lingers,” he said.

The monthly average (PAR-28) has continued its downward stroke from the recovery seen in June, losing another three points and ending on 83% this week (average of stage 2).

“Although it has slowed a little, previous trends suggest that it will continue to decline until around 9 August,” Jordaan said.