Load shedding now looks inevitable next week, with Eskom’s breakdowns worse than in early December

Business Insider SA
  • If the current level of generator breakdowns continue, Eskom will likely declare at least stage 2 electricity rationing next week, when many people and factories return to work. 
  • Breakdowns stood at 14,096 MW on Friday, slightly less than the 14,200 MW in breakdowns on December 9 – when Eskom implemented load shedding stage 4. 
  • Breakdowns above 9,500 MW typically mean load shedding is likely.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

Load shedding - which has been described as the biggest threat to South Africa’s ailing economy - is set to be resumed next week if generator breakdowns continue at present levels. 

On Friday Eskom disclosed that breakdowns meant generators capable of 14,096MW in output was offline – slightly less than the 14,200MW in breakdowns it saw on December 9 when the utility implemented load shedding stage 4.

During late December, with unusually low demands on the national grid, breakdowns continued at levels above those seen in the early part of the month, in the lead-up to record levels of electricity rationing, including the previously unheard-of stage 6 on December 9.

Since December 13, breakdowns have consistently been above 11,600MW, which was the level at which Eskom implemented stage 2 load shedding.

And worse still, since December 4 the utility's grid updates show that it has not seen one day with breakdowns below 9,500 MW – which is its own benchmark to avoid load shedding entirely. 

That suggests that when South Africans return to work next week and major mining companies and factories resume operations, load shedding will likely resume. 

Eskom has not responded to a request for comment. 

This year will be the 13th year since state-owned Eskom first implemented load shedding, after years of above-inflation electricity price increases.

In 2019, when South Africa’s expected economic growth slumped from 1.7% to 0.7% and saw a first quarter economic decline, load shedding was mainly blamed.

At the same time, the country’s unemployment figure rose to 29.1 %, or 6.7-million people, from 27.6% at the beginning of the year - the highest since 2008.

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s promises of “bold decision” to tackle the crisis at Eskom in February 2019, and a nine-point plan to improve the entity’s operations, the utility plunged the country into stage 6 load shedding in December for the first time in history with no warning.

Ramaphosa was appointed by then President Jacob Zuma in 2014 to oversee the turnaround at the entity.

Also read: 6 times Cyril Ramaphosa promised progress on Eskom – and stressed its urgent importance – including in 2015

Since Ramaphosa promised to turn around the entity in February, Eskom’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) resigned, and the company received a R59 billion state bailout, and plans for it to be split into three were announced.

In October, the department of mineral resources and energy released the country’s new energy plan which for the first time makes provision for produce private energy producers to operate modular and smaller power plants of between 300MW and 600MW.

In November, the state also appointed a new chief executive officer at the utility after appointing a chief restructuring officer to oversee the entity’s unbundling. 

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