Power crisis: What stage 16 load-shedding would entail

As South Africa faces an ongoing power crisis, concerns arise over the possibility of stage 16 load-shedding, which would entail 24 hours without electricity for households. While Eskom and experts in the field emphasise that such extreme measures are unlikely unless a major crisis occurs, a new national standards document proposes load-shedding schedules up to stage 16. The current system only goes up to stage 8, leaving municipalities unprepared. This precautionary measure aims to ensure an orderly implementation of higher rotational power cuts if necessary.


What Stage 16 load-shedding would look like

By Myles Illidge

Stage 16 load-shedding essentially means 24 hours per day without power for households, although South Africa is still a long way from implementing such high levels of power cuts.

University of Johannesburg physics professor Hartmut Winkler told MyBroadband he believes something would have to go drastically wrong in the near future for stage 16 load-shedding to become a reality.

On 11 May 2023, Eskom confirmed that a new national standards document proposed load-shedding schedules up to stage 16.

The current load-shedding schedules only go up to stage 8, meaning a push to higher stages would leave municipalities and distributors in the dark about how to implement higher levels.

Eskom’s system operator is responsible for the stability of South Africa’s national power grid and could order higher power cuts if necessary.

Read more: A three step plan: Solving the electricity crisis and reshaping South Africa’s energy landscape

However, a schedule up to stage 16 would ensure that higher levels of rotational load-shedding are implemented in an orderly fashion if they become necessary.

MyBroadband asked Winkler what a stage 16 load-shedding schedule could look like. He said he expects Eskom to change the current rotational power cut pattern to make smaller increments.

“Stage 8 means 12 hours without power, so if the new schedule follows the same pattern as the current one, then stage 16 would mean 24 hours without power,” said Winkler.

“They may, however, change the current pattern in a manner that the increments are smaller.”

We also asked Eskom for feedback, and it confirmed that households should expect no power if load-shedding reaches stage 16. However, it highlighted the fact that the proposed schedule is purely precautionary.

“On a 2-hour load-shedding schedule, at stage 16, you would expect to be off for 32 hours in a 32-hour period,” it said.

“The development of schedules beyond stage 8 is merely a precaution to ensure that these exist if they were ever to be required.”

“The current situation is that, should the need arise for load-shedding beyond stage 8, the System Operator would instruct each province to reduce by an additional specific [megawatt] amount,” Eskom added.

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However, it noted that this wouldn’t be carried out in a scheduled, systematic manner and wouldn’t be known to the public, hence the need for the schedules.

Winkler pointed out that load-shedding would only reach stage 16 — or the shedding of 16,000MW — if something were to go drastically wrong.

“Stage 8 also means shedding 8,000MW of power, and according to that scheme, stage 16 means demand exceeds supply by 16,000MW,” said Winkler.

“South Africa, however, has far more than 16,000MW available, so stage 16 implies we are still very far from having no power at all.”

“The remaining power goes to industrial users with special contracts with Eskom (e.g. aluminium smelters), who in the past have escaped most of the power cuts,” he added.

Winkler also explained that these users would be required to carry some of the load-shedding burden before higher stages are required.

Read more: Power Shift: Eskom faces threat from independent producers as sales decline

However, he said it was unclear how the burden would be shared without seeing any draft schedule.

Eskom said the new national standards document also proposes more stages of load curtailment, although there are some practical limitations on industrial plants.

Load-curtailment is a mechanism Eskom uses to reduce demand from energy-intensive users in South Africa, like mines and smelters.

In return for their participation, these customers are compensated financially by Eskom and can be exempted from national stage 1 and stage 2 load-shedding.

Load-curtailment schedules previously only went as high as stage 4.

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This article was first published by My Broadband and is republished with permission