How Eskom is dodging stage 7 load shedding – for now

Over the last several months, South Africa has often ‘technically’ hit stage 7 and 8 load shedding, but load curtailment has ensured that South Africa’s public has only been subjected to a stage 6 load shedding schedule.

For example, on May 4, Eskom said that it shed 6,303MW off the grid, which, as per definition, equates to stage 7 load shedding.

However, Eskom said that it implemented stage 6 load shedding with stages 1 and 2 of load curtailment, with the latter reducing the electricity shortfall to below 6,000 MW.

Load curtailment is when Eskom directly asks large power users to reduce their power usage.

Electricity-intensive organisations are subjected to four stages of load curtailment:

  • Stage 1 and stage 2: companies are required to reduce 10% of their power consumption
  • Stage 3: companies are required to reduce 15% of their power consumption
  • Stage 4: companies are required to reduce 20% of their power consumption

This differs from load shedding, which is the rotation of blackouts across areas on the grid and is determined by the national operator.

Power-intensive users may not always be affected, even if load shedding hits stage 6.

“When load shedding is declared, it doesn’t necessarily mean that load curtailment will follow or is also declared,” Fanele Mondi, Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG) CEO, told CapeTalk.

The EIUG, whose members include Glencore, Anglo American, Implats, Sibanye Stillwater, Thungela and 22 other corporations, use over 40% of the nation’s electricity and are subjected to load curtailment.

As reported by Daily Investor, NRS Association of South Africa’s Vally Padayachee said that the confusion between load shedding and load curtailment is often caused by Eskom classifying both under load shedding and not the more accurate “manual load reduction” (MLR).

Economic warning 

Although load curtailment may seem like a good idea, it has a disastrous effect on the nation’s economy.

The EIUG’s members contribute roughly 22% to the nation’s GDP, and any changes to operations can have a major impact on productivity.

Mondi said that any load curtailment above stage 4 will result in ‘essential loads’ where all mining personnel underground have to be moved back to the surface, and power is only used to sustain the system, preventing it from collapsing.

Moreover, energy expert Hilton Trollip said that load curtailment also costs Eskom, as it pays penalties to energy-intensive users and loses revenue from electricity sales.

Trollip added that taxpayers would have to pay for Eskom’s rising debt, with the economy also slowing, resulting in job cuts.

Although load curtailment has a seriously negative effect on the economy, Eskom seems steadfast in ensuring that public load shedding does not exceed stage 6 and may continue to subject EIUG members to load curtailment.

Energy-intensive users will likely be subjected to a difficult winter, with Eskom warning that its national grid is under severe strain, with several thousands of megawatts down.

This is due to several units offline at Kusile and Medupi power stations, Koeberg unit 1 undergoing life extensions and several other outages.

“It’s going to be a very tough winter,” the embattled power utility said.

Mondi said that EIUG members have spoken about moving away from Eskom, with many also looking to reduce their carbon footprint via renewable energy solutions, such as wind and solar.

However, he said that these energy sources can often not supply for 24-hour production, and EIUG members will likely still depend on Eskom for a base load.