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Would it even be a South African winter if we weren’t worried about being plunged into darkness for hours at a time?
A month back, Eskom, via chief operations officer Jan Oberholzer and CEO Andre de Ruyter, confidently told South Africans that we should only expect around three days of stage one load shedding during winter.
Both spoke about how the lockdown had provided an opportunity to carry out “short-term opportunistic maintenance”, which addressed some of the most pressing issues related to the national power supply.
That seemed to put the issue to bed, but then reports surfaced over the weekend with energy experts warning that rolling blackouts could be coming in the next few weeks.
Not just the two hours here and there, either, with energy expert Lungile Mashele telling the Saturday Star that “with demand having gone back to pre-lockdown levels, and with one of the coldest winters in the last decade, load shedding at stage six is not off-limit”.
(Rumour has it that if you combine advanced alert level 3 with stage six load shedding, you reach the final level boss of ‘South Africa’, the video game.)
Other experts spoke of the increased demand, caused by a potential drop in lockdown regulations to alert level 2, pushing the system beyond its capabilities, with load shedding thus likely.
When MyBroadband approached Eskom for comment, spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha denied that was the case, saying “we foresee the possibility of three days of stage one load shedding this winter, which should occur late in July”.
Mantshansha did speak of load reduction, though, which started last week in Gauteng.
Whilst load shedding is done in order to cope with a higher electricity demand than the national grid can meet, load reduction refers to measures targeting certain areas in order to safeguard Eskom’s infrastructure.
“Load reduction is an initiative aimed at protecting Eskom’s assets by reducing load during peak hours in the high-density residential areas of Gauteng, which have high incidences of illegal connections and overloading,” Mantshansha said.
“These illegal connections and overloading, particularly where you have multiple households connecting through the main house, cause transformers and mini-substations to explode under the heavy unregulated weight.”
For example, this morning Eskom implemented load reduction in certain areas of Gauteng:
Speaking with EWN, Mantshantsha went a step further in the explanation:
…It costs Eskom about R1 billion a year to tackle illegal connections in Gauteng alone.
The bulk of the money is spent on fixing or replacing damaged transformers, which often blow up because of overloading.
Eskom has been aggressive in its response in the last few weeks, targeting areas where illegal connections persisted.
“That kind of transformer costs on average R80,000. This costs Eskom in Gauteng alone R1 billion a year to replace this infrastructure destroyed by illegal connections and this mostly happens where people bluntly refuse to pay for electricity,” Mantshantsha said.
“We have made a decision that rather than inconveniencing our customers for that number of days, and of course which can also help us in protecting the infrastructure, we will switch off power in the hours when most damage occurs,” he said.
I can appreciate the difference between load shedding and load reduction, but that shouldn’t wipe the slate clean.
Call it what you want, but once the power goes off thanks to years and years of criminal neglect, South Africa’s citizens have been failed.
For now, at least, there will be no stage six load shedding.[sources:mybroadband&ewn]