What is Load Shedding?
Load Shedding is the deliberate ‘switching off’ of areas of the power grid, to reduce the demand when it is anticipated that the generating capacity will be insufficient to meet the demand. This is done to prevent failure of the entire power grid and is known in some countries as “rolling blackouts.”
Eskom (the country’s power utility provider) announced on Sunday 10th February that it was implementing Stage 2 load shedding due to insufficient power supply. By Monday morning, the status had deteriorated necessitating the implementation of Stage 4 load shedding. This announcement was unexpected because the power utility had managed to keep the ‘lights on’ and avoid load shedding until now, however, for those following the troubled state-owned power utility, this new crisis did not come as a surprise.
Eskom has been plagued by massive debt, poorly maintained aging infrastructure, skills shortages and its new power plants, originally scheduled to be online by 2014 have been affected by delays, technical problems and are massively over budget, with the result that they are still not producing electricity at anywhere near the required capacity, placing the entire grid under massive strain.
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced, in his State of the Nation Address, a plan to restructure Eskom, which was met with resistance by unions due to the implication of job losses. Many say that the resultant power crisis (when seven generators went offline) so soon thereafter cannot be mere coincidence and there are rumours of sabotage.
There are hopes that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech this coming week (end February 2019) will shed light on a bail out plan and the future of Eskom. But until then, the country remains ‘in the dark’ as to how long the rolling back outs will continue. But it is clear that business and residents may be in for a difficult time ahead, as Eskom also seeks to raise tariffs by 15%-30% in an effort to resolve its debt and cash flow issues.
Although Eskom have suspended load shedding this week its troubles remain. There seems to be no quick or painless solution on the horizon, therefore, it is time to work on coping strategies including generators, inverters, solar powered battery back-ups, cooking and heating on gas, LED battery lights and the like.
How does load shedding work and how to find the schedule
The country is divided into blocks which are load shed at different times of the day, sometimes for 2 hours at a time and sometimes for 4.5 hours at a time. Johannesburg is using 8 x 4-hour time blocks. They also add on a 30-minute extension onto each block to allow for turning on and turning off the sub-stations.
There are four stages, with 1 being the least severe and 4 being the most severe.
- Stage 1 allows for up to 1000 MW of the national load to be shed. Requires the least amount of load shedding, 3 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 3 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time.
- Stage 2 allows for up to 2000 MW of the national load to be shed. Doubles the frequency of Stage 1, which means you will be scheduled for load shedding 6 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 6 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time.
- Stage 3 allows for up to 3000 MW of the national load to be shed. Increases the frequency of Stage 2 by 50%, which means you will be scheduled for load shedding 9 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 9 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time.
- Stage 4 allows for up to 4000 MW of the national load to be shed. Doubles the frequency of Stage 2, which means you will be scheduled for load shedding 12 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 12 times over an eight day period for four hours at a time.
It is possible to check the load shedding schedule ahead of time in order to be prepared:
- Eskom Se Push App: Download the app and select your suburb.
- Johannesburg: City Power website: https://www.citypower.co.za/customers/Pages/Load_Shedding.aspx or Telephone: 086 056 2874
- Ekurhuleni (Gauteng, East Rand)
- Tshwane (Pretoria) Website: www.tshwane.gov.za or Telephone: 012 358 9999
- City of Cape Town: Website: www.capetown.gov.za/ Telephone: 086 010 3089
- Ethekwini (Durban and surrounds) Website: http://www.durban.gov.za/City_Services/electricity/Load_Shedding/Pages/default.aspx or
- Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth and surrounds) Website: www.nelsonmandelabay.gov.za or Telephone: 041 506 5555 or 041 506 3111
- eMalahleni (Witbank and surrounds): Website: www.emalahleni.gov.za or Telephone: 013 690 6911 or 013 690 6222
Website: https://www.ekurhuleni.gov.za/yourservices/energy/power-cuts/load-shedding-schedules Telephone: 086 054 3000
Telephone: 080 131 3111
Tips for surviving load shedding
- Know your schedule and plan accordingly. For example, if you know your home will be without power between 4pm and 8pm, plan to have a braai (barbecue) or plan meals which can be prepared on a gas stove if you have one. Also consider your commute to and from work and try to mitigate spending hours in traffic due to traffic lights being out, by leaving earlier or later. Consult Waze or Google Maps Apps with live traffic view for the least congested routes home.
- Stock up on rechargeable LED battery lights. These are available at hardware stores and large super markets.
- Check that your alarm and automatic gate/garage door batteries are in good working order and are carrying enough charge to continue operating for at least five hours.
- Consider purchasing an inverter. There are many options available from good hardware stores including Builders Warehouse, which range in capacity (the larger more expensive units will be able to power more appliances and lights for a longer period) so consider your needs and get some advice from the in-store specialist before purchasing. Having a free-standing inverter unit will allow you to run appliances directly to the inverter with an extension cord. However, there is an option to have an inverter system installed so that it is linked to certain circuits of your mains electricity board. The linked circuit will then come on automatically with the inverter when the power goes down. An electrician will be required to do this and should also be able to source and supply the inverter.
- Generators are an option; however, they are noisy, expensive to run on diesel and require upkeep and maintenance. If you live in an estate or complex, there may be rules about generators and noise levels so be sure to check. The estate approved generators tend to be extremely expensive and require professional installation on a concrete pad in a sound reducing housing, the costs of which are often prohibitive.
- Unplug valuable electronics e.g. TV’s and computers when not in use as these may be damaged by power surges when the power comes back on.