Analysis Of How South African Economy May Not Survive Rolling Blackout


The practice of ‘Load shedding’ or Rolling blackout is when an Energy utility supplier interrupts the electricity supply to certain areas as a last resort action to balance electricity supply and demand. With Eskom alone providing over 95% of South Africa’s energy usage, there is a long history of load shedding, with multiple causes. During the 1980s Eskom disengaged three of their coal-fired power stations, as there was an excess of generation capacity at the time

In 1998, the Department of Minerals and Energy released a detailed energy review in which it explicitly warned that unless “timely steps were taken to ensure that demand does not exceed available supply capacity”, generating capacity would reach its limit by 2007.

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Eskom explained their intentions saying:

  • When there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand from all Eskom customers, it could be necessary to interrupt supply to certain areas. This is called load shedding. It is different from a power outage that could occur for several other reasons.
  • It is a last resort to balance electricity supply and demand. We will only apply load-shedding when all other options have been exhausted.
  • It is an effective way to avoid total collapse of the electricity supply grid (a national black-out) which will have disastrous outcomes for South Africa. If unbalances on the power is not managed this could lead to the risk of collapse of the entire power network. If this occurs, it could take more than a week to restore power to the entire country. By rotating and shedding the load in a planned and controlled manner, the system remains stable.

Even though Eskom is engaging load shedding to stop the entire country from experiencing permanent blackout, there are still major concerns that the effect of load shedding on the economy of South Africa could be more disastrous than the country can handle. Previously, Eskom-rolled blackouts has left South Africans without power for hours at a time, leaving homes, hospitals, business, traffic lights and basically communities disconnected from the grid. Early this month energy expert Chris Yelland provided more detail on just how much blackouts are costing the South African economy.

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A report by Chris Yellend on the 9th of February warned that the controlled blackouts are having a serious negative impact on the economy. This is in reference to the occurrences that have been taking place in South Africa since December 2014. According to him, the cost to the economy during stage 1 load shedding – i.e 10 hours of blackouts per day for 20 days a month – is R20 billion per month, while Stage 2 and Stage 3 robs the economy of R40 billion and R80 billion per month respectively.

The above statistics would mean that the estimation of the International Monetary Fund was right when it warned in January that a prolonged period of load shedding would see the country’s economy only grow by 2.1% in 2015.

A recent technical fault at the Koeberg nuclear power plant resulted in one of its 900MW units going offline last week, which incurred further costs to SA and Eskom.

“The cost of unserved energy to the productive economy in SA caused by this Eskom “human error” at Koeberg is estimated to be R7.5-billion,” said Yelland adding that Eskom’s additional diesel costs for one week due to the “human error” at Koeberg is estimated to be R250 million.

Look at the infographics below to understand just how much load shedding is costing South Africa’s economy.

load shed

Image source: Mybroadband

In addition to all of the grim news is the news of the delay in the synchronization of Medupi Power Station’s first unit by six weeks, meaning that the possible completion date will now be towards the end of March 2015.

It is important however to adhere to the instructions of Eskom as strictly as possible to help them combat the load. But more importantly prepare yourself and your home for alternative means of power in case the load shedding affects your

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