The Dark Secrets of Load Shedding in South Africa

Load shedding. It’s been a plague for South Africans since 2007. And in 2019 reduced the country’s GDP growth by 0.30%, which translates to roughly R8.5 billion of real GDP (+$485 million).

But even though it has a catastrophic effect on the national economy and is the number one challenge that small business owners face, many locals and certainly foreigners still don’t know what the hell load shedding really is.

So let’s get down to it and answer one of the biggest questions hovering around South Africa.

What exactly is load shedding?

Load shedding is a measure of last resort taken by Eskom (South Africa’s largest producer of electricity) when power demand begins to exceed possible supply.

To avoid a nationwide blackout and total collapse of the power grid, Eskom rations the available supply between different districts according to a published schedule.

Basically, where you live dictates what time of day you’ll have electricity or be without.

Here’s an infographic for some visual interpretation.

what is loadshedding - infographic

Eskom’s load shedding timeline

Our Eskom load shedding timeline should shed some light as to why the country is still dealing with blackouts.

2007

Eskom introduces load shedding

Former president Thabo Mbeki admits Eskom was correct in stating its decreasing capacity and that the government has neglected to attend to the crisis sooner. South Africans from schools, formal and informal businesses and households are hit by rolling blackouts.

2007
2008

Load shedding continues – Eskom is unequipped

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) states that Eskom is unequipped & underdeveloped to handle South Africa’s fast growing economy.

2008
2013

After a 5 year break, load shedding returns

Diminished stockpiles of dry coal at some plants are to blame. 3 generating units in Mpumalanga at Kendal power station are continuously tripping.  

2013
2015

99 Days of load shedding ensue

Despite former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe declaring that there’d be an end to load shedding, the country experiences 99 days of regular blackouts. The economy is hit hard, and the GDP is slowed. Molefe then unveils his new strategy, which focuses on maintenance and better management.

2015
2016

Former president Jacob Zuma states load shedding will no longer be a problem

Former president Jacob Zuma tells staff at Eskom’s Sunninghill headquarters that blackouts would no longer be an issue. He refers to a detailed report on how Eskom will eliminate the need for load shedding.

2016
2018

Gordhan warns of electricity cuts

South Africa is reintroduced to rolling blackouts as stage 1 and 2 load shedding commences. Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan says Medupi and Kusile power plants have experienced design flaws, which are affecting the production capabilities.

2018
March 2019

Load shedding jumps from stage 2 to stage 4

The power utility makes a quick jump from stage 2 to 4 load shedding. March sees blackouts lasting for weeks. Gordhan apologizes publicly, blaming the power cuts on plant breakdowns. President Cyril Ramaphosa says that R69 billion will be allocated to aiding the state utility. The Zondo Commission of Inquiry continues to investigate allegations of state capture and laundering of state resources at Eskom.

March 2019
December 2019

Both Gordhan and Mabuza speak out about load shedding

South Africans now face stage 6 load shedding after a long week of blackouts that have affected countless households and businesses across the nation. Heavy rainfall and a problem at the Medupi power plant are to blame. In an interview with eNCA, Eskom chairperson and acting CEO Jabu Mabuza said: “I don’t think we’re failing. I think some of the reasons we find ourselves is mainly the unreliability of the plant owing to maintenance not being done. The situation we find ourselves today is to make sure it’s controlled load-shedding. Stage 6 is not a calamity. It’s controlled to protect the system from total blackout.”

December 2019
2020

Load shedding continues

Stage 4 load shedding is initiated in March 2020 when the Koeberg Nuclear power station experiences technical difficulties, because one of the sea water cooling pumps failed.

2020

What are the different load shedding stages?

As of 2020, there are a total of 8 stages. The higher the loadshedding stage, the more frequently you’ll experience electricity cuts.

How does it work?

The stage is determined by Eskom and depends on the number of megawatts needed to balance the power grid.

Once a schedule has been agreed upon, Eskom and the municipalities implement the loadshedding plan on a rotational basis.

Loadshedding will then commence for 2 – 4 hours at a time, depending on the stage and also on your area. For example, in stage 8 power will be turned off throughout the day for a total of 12 hours.

How South Africa generates electricity

Eskom accounts for 95% of all the electricity generated in South Africa. The country produces approximately 52 811 Mega Watt (MW).

Below, you can see how this energy is produced.

coal power station
40,036 MW

Coal
75%

wind power station
2,096 MW

Wind
3.9%

Solar power PV
400 MW

Solar CSP
0.75%

hydro power
3,573 MW

Hydro
6.7%

nuclear power station
(1,860 MW)

Nuclear
3.5%

landfill gas
7.5 MW

Landfill Gas
0.0014%

Gas Turbine
3,449 MW

Gas Turbine
6.5%

Solar CSP
1,479 MW

Solar PV
2.8%

imported hydro
1,500 MW

Imported Hydro
2.8%

For comparison, we have listed the total MW-generating capacities of other countries around the world. Remember, South Africa has a generating capacity of 52,811 MW.

  • USA: 1 200 000 MW
  • France: 67 527 MW
  • Germany: 211 000 MW
  • Australia: 49 365 MW
  • India: 372 000 MW

Map of power stations in South Africa

Click on the image for a live preview

How can you save electricity?

Low monthly expenses is something we all want, right?

Of course it is, who doesn’t!

Sadly though, eco-friendly behavior is usually associated with high costs.

But what if you could keep costs low and protect your environment at the same time? (Yes you read correctly, it’s your environment). – Too good to be true, right?

Wrong! In fact, there are many ways YOU can help our planet by reducing your very own carbon footprint.

I have listed some life hacks that will help you along this path.

natural light
Save $9 per year

1. Use natural light

load shedding
Save $15 per year

2. Turn off unnecessary lights

save electricity
Save $30 per year

3. Take 2 minute shorter showers

load shedding - save electricity
Save $65 per year

4. Hang dry your laundry

save energy
Save $50 per year

5. Unplug unused electronics

save water and teeth
Save $19 per year

6. Turn water off when washing hands & brushing teeth

what is load shedding?
Save $22 per year

7. Wash laundry in cold water

save electricity
Save $60 per year

8. Lower your thermostat by two degrees

eskom
Save $100 per year

9. Install motion sensors on outdoor lights

towel - save electricity
Save $27per year

10. Toss a towel in the dryer (If you don’t want to hang dry.)

Which one of your appliances use the most electricity?

load shedding what is it and why does it happen

In case you’re not quite sure what a kWh means, don’t stress. Check out this short video below.

Cost of getting off the Eskom energy grid?

Niche Market wrote an extremely informative article over here. We recommend you to read it if you are serious about getting off the Eskom energy grid. Costs would look like this:

Solis Grid-Tie PV System (1-phase)Panel ArrayMonthly savings (R1,85/kWh)System Cash priceMonthly loan @ 19%, 60 months
3kW Solis System3kWR832 (450kWh)R 53 910.00R1498
4kW Solis System4kWR1220 (660kWh)R 63 100.00R1736
5kW Solis System5kWR1465 (792kWh)R 82 500.00R2240

A solar power system is certainly a pricey investment on your part. The technology is still in its formative stages and will continue to get better/cheaper as time progresses.

Perhaps, you’d like to start slow and add solar power incrementally to your home. Basic panels and installation can start anywhere from R2000 to R50 000.

Unfortunately, not all of us have the space nor the money to install solar panels throughout our household. However, as you’ve seen in this article, there are many ways you can save on your electricity bills and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time, all costing a total of $0!

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