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Shops at a mall in Johannesburg are closed due to load-shedding.

Clean Power

This Picture Really Shows The Extent of South Africa’s Electricity Crisis

A number of Southern African countries are in the midst of a devastating electricity crisis. Zimbabweans have been subjected to daily power cuts of up to 20 hours a day. In Zambia, load-shedding has just been increased to 12 hours a day. One of Africa’s largest power producers by installed capacity, South Africa is also experiencing electricity generation constraints mainly due to frequent breakdowns at its aging coal power plants. South Africa has an installed electricity generation capacity of over 50,000 MW, but quite often, close to 17,000 MW or even 24,000 MW at times is out of action due to a combination of breakdowns and planned maintenance. This has resulted in Eskom, the national utility company, implementing various stages of load shedding as needed.

Eskom’s load-shedding program is structured in stages, where Eskom sheds a certain quantum of load from the grid to stabilize the grid. So, depending on the severity of the crisis, load-shedding is implemented in stages from Stage 1 to Stage 8, where Stage 1 sheds 1,000 MW of load from the grid and in a Stage 8 scenario, Eskom takes out 8,000 MW of load from the grid. Load-shedding is implemented over 2-hour or 4-hour blocks on a rotational basis depending on the severity of the crises. Stage 8, however means most consumers will experience a blackout for about 12 hours.

There is a popular independent load-shedding tracking app called “EskomSePush.” It has been tracking load-shedding for over 7 years now. Recently, Gareth Dwyer created a historical calendar detailing every single day of load-shedding since 2015 using data extracted from EskomSePush. They say a picture says a thousand words, well this picture really shows the extent of South Africa’s electricity crisis and I can relate to the dates on that calendar. South Africa had its first real load-shedding period in 2007. This subsided in 2008, before I had first moved to South Africa from Zimbabwe.

Load-shedding chart by Gareth Dwyer

The next wave of load-shedding started in early 2015, as shown in Gareth’s diagram. This was mostly Stage 1 and 2 from February 2015 to July 2015. Having grown up in Zimbabwe, I was kind of used to load-shedding, but it was rather strange to experience it in South Africa at the time. It was implemented in 2-hour cycles and it was something you can plan around, unlike the 18-hour cycles we were experiencing in Zimbabwe at the same time.

I was still at university at that time, finishing up writing my thesis. In my studies, I had to run experiments using vacuum annealing ovens. These experiments could run for 72 hours continuously. So, power cuts were simply not ideal. Thankfully, I had finished all the experiments by that time, and these were therefore not affected. 2016 and 2017 were generally good years as shown in Gareth’s chart, with no load-shedding whatsoever. Then load-shedding appeared occasionally in 2018, then a little more in 2019, then a little more in 2020 and 2021. 2022 is when it got really bad. There were more than 3,700 hours of load-shedding in 2022, which is more than all the load-shedding from 2019 to 2021! From the chart, one can see the almost daily load-shedding from September last year to December, with more incidences of Stage 5 and Stage 6 load-shedding.

Stage 6 load-shedding is said to cost South Africa up to R4.6 billion (US$270 million) per day. You can really feel these losses and the impact of load-shedding on businesses. Here are some pictures I took recently at a mall in Johannesburg at midday on a Saturday, which is prime shopping time! Most of the shops in the mall were closed. The few that were open could not take credit or debit cards as the systems were off due to load-shedding. Now add factories and other sectors also in the mix. It is not a pretty sight.

Photos by Remeredzai. Load-shedding chart by Gareth Dwyer

 
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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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