Stage 7 load shedding – but not quite

Stage 7 load shedding – but not quiteMinister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, says that South Africa has not yet reached higher than stage 6 load shedding in terms of scheduled outages – but more than 7,000MW has been taken off the grid.Responding to a written parliamentary Q&A from May, Ramokgopa noted that the country was able to avoid escalating load shedding beyond stage 6 thanks to load curtailment.Load curtailment refers to contracted loads on the national grid that can be pulled at the System Operator’s behest. Most contracts are with large industry players, but the government is currently looking to cast the net wider to be able to secure even more power during peak times or times of pressure.According to Ramokgopa, the partial reduction of demand from large industrial customers through load curtailment goes up to stage 4.This has been implemented in conjunction with stage 6 load shedding at times.Each stage of load curtailment is approximately 5% of the large customer demand – with stage 4 load curtailment being up to 1 000MW of demand that is removed from the power system.Thus stage 4 load curtailment is roughly the equivalent of one stage of load shedding.However, this burden is not shouldered by South Africans at large through load shedding schedules, but through the contracted Eskom customers who cut power use.Load shedding confusionEskom has maintained that load shedding has not moved above stage 6 in South Africa, despite its own data contradicting this on several occasions.During some of the worst load shedding experienced this year, the group reported over 7,000MW of load being shed from the grid, which would technically equal stage 8 load shedding.Eskom defines load shedding stages as follows:Stage 1 — Up to 1,000MW cut from the national gridStage 2 — 1,001 to 2,000MW cut from the national gridStage 3 — 2,001 to 3,000MW cut from the national gridStage 4 — 3,001 to 4,000MW cut from the national gridStage 5 — 4,001 to 5,000MW cut from the national gridStage 6 — 5,001 to 6,000MW cut from the national gridStage 7 — 6,001 to 7,000MW cut from the national gridStage 8 — 7,001 to 8,000MW cut from the national gridTo the layman, 1,000MW of capacity taken off the grid is generally accepted to be one stage of load shedding, and this is also how it is understood when it comes to adding capacity to the grid (ie, ‘enough to cover x stage(s) of load shedding’).Eskom argued that load shedding has only reached stage 6 (up to 6,000MW shed), with anything beyond that covered by load curtailment, which the energy minister has now pegged at up to 1,000MW.Energy experts have hit back against Eskom’s arguments, saying that regardless of how the company tries to divvy up the load and split it into load shedding and load curtailment, the sum total of capacity removed from the grid has exceeded stage 6.This burden, no matter who carries it, is felt by the entire country and the economy, so trying to hide behind technicalities helps no one.Beyond this, businesses and residents in parts of the country say they have experienced outages for longer than the scheduled times – another indicator that load shedding stretched beyond what was announced.South Africans have been given a slight reprieve from load shedding in recent weeks, with the power utility currently on a rotation of load shedding being suspended during the day and moving to stage 3 or stage 4 at night.However, the country would do well not to become complacent or forget the urgency of the situation.According to Ramokgopa, the winter outlook remains high-risk despite lower levels of load shedding.Energy expert Chris Yelland noted earlier this month that even though Eskom’s energy availability factor has improved, it remains below the levels seen at the same time in 2022. The trend line is still pointing down – and only a longer-term outperformance will shift things in a better direction.