Eskom had us on an emotional rollercoaster this week, first implementing stage 2 load shedding before shifting gears to stage 4, down to stage 3 and back to stage 2.
We know that stage 1 requires the least amount of load shedding, but what exactly happens when we move up or down the ‘shedding ladder? In what ways does stage 3 differ from stage 4?
First, let’s look at why these power outages are even needed in the first place.
Why we need load shedding?
Eskom rations the load in certain suburbs when the power utility fails to generate enough capacity to keep the lights on everywhere. If load shedding isn’t implemented, the power grid could suffer catastrophic failure.
If that occurs, it would result in a nationwide blackout for days. Load shedding is therefore implemented to ensure fair rotation to all customers. This doesn’t mean that all blackouts are load shedding. Eskom explains:
“If your supply is interrupted without notice or not as per your schedule, it is more likely that the outage is caused by other reasons, for example, cable theft or technical problems”.
Eskom assures customers that load shedding “is only applied when all other voluntary and contracted demand reduction has been exhausted in order to avoid a total collapse of the electricity supply grid”.
Thus, by rotating the load and shedding certain suburbs in a planned and controlled manner, all systems remain stable and a national blackout can be avoided.
Situations which may lead to controlled power cuts include generation issues, a demand prediction error, weather-related issues, supply and import problems, or an issue with coal supply and/or handling.
What are load shedding stages?
This is where it gets tricky. There are currently four stages of load shedding (reportedly). However, Eskom has made provision for stages 6 through to 8 as well.
We’ve unfortunately experienced stage 6 already– with stages 1 and 2 being the most common – which were developed based on the possibility of risk “and to ensure load shedding is applied in a fair and equitable measure”, Eskom explains.
Each of the time periods has an additional 30 minutes added to allow for switching of networks in a way that will not damage the power system, and the frequency of load shedding increases as higher Stages are used.
Stage 1 allows for up to 1 000 MW of the national load to be shed. This is the “cosiest stage”, for lack of a better world. Outages will be implemented three times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or three times over an eight day period for four hours at a time.
Stage 2 allows for up to 2 000 MW of the national load to be shed, and doubles the frequency of stage 1. Outages will be implemented six times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or six times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time
Stage 3 allows for up to 3 000 MW of the national load to be shed. This stage increases the frequency of stage 2 by 50%, so outages will be implemented nine times over a four day period for two hours at a time, or nine times over an eight day period for four hours at a time.
Stage 4 allows for up to 4 000 MW of the national load to be shed. Outages will be implemented 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.
Stage 6 and 7
Stage 6 is the highest we’ve ever been shed, the dark and dreary month of December 2019. At stage 6 and 7, Eskom sheds 6 000MW and 7 000MW respectively, which means power cuts will be scheduled over a four-day period for four hours at a time.
The dreaded stage 8 doubles the frequency of stage 4, meaning Eskom will shed 8 000MW and residents will be in the dark up to six times a day, or 12 hours depending on the schedule.
It’s safe to say that South Africa will be plunged into chaos if we ever reach this point. Hospitals and critical infrastructure will struggle to remain functional, while the extended outages will also disrupt the economy.
Most citizens will be without electricity for prolonged periods, looting and crime will escalate and food production will be severely halted.