After over 100 days of no load-shedding, load-reduction arrives

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo
Johannesburg, 09 Jul 2024
The local solar industry is losing its momentum as a result of the load-shedding reprieve.
The local solar industry is losing its momentum as a result of the load-shedding reprieve.

Power utility Eskom has started implementing load-reduction, as a result of network overloading because of high demand in winter and electricity theft.

This, despite the state-owned company suspending load-shedding for 104 consecutive days due to sufficient generation capacity to supply electricity to the country.

In a recent interview with ITWeb TV, Eskom chairman Mteto Nyati said South Africa is unlikely to have load-shedding until 2025, as the company has increased its generation capacity.

As positive as this long run of no load-shedding has been for SA, the solar market has, however, experienced a significant decline in growth.

In a statement, Eskom says the issue of network overloading is prevalent in its supply areas in Limpopo, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and North West.

According to the power utility, about 94% of the total overloaded transformers are in these areas as a result of electricity theft and indiscriminate use of electricity.

Despite continued public information campaigns to customers about the implications of electricity theft activities, Eskom says it has no other option but to implement load-reduction to protect its assets from repeated failures and explosions, which pose a risk to human lives.

“Overloaded transformers as a result of electricity theft present a serious risk to human life, we only implement load reduction as a very last resort for the shortest periods possible after all other options have been exhausted,” says Monde Bala, group executive for distribution at Eskom.

“A transformer damaged by overloading can leave an area without power for up to six months. Protecting Eskom’s assets is in the best interest of all South Africans.”

According to Eskom, during winter, there is an exponential increase in energy demand in areas prone to electricity theft, as electricity is often used indiscriminately, leading to network failure due to extreme overloading.

Unsustainable situation

It reveals there are currently around 2 111 transformers that are frequently overloaded across the country at risk of being damaged, with around 900 transformers awaiting replacement.

“Over time, Eskom has invested resources and increased capacity to meet the exponential demand in these areas prone to overloading. Despite these investments, the demand has continued to grow, rendering the situation unsustainable. Eskom has been engaging with various communities, educating them on the safe and efficient use of electricity. In some areas, Eskom has removed illegal connections; however, network overloading persists,” it states.

In areas where load-reduction will be implemented, the relevant cluster or province will communicate with affected customers through the normal channels, including SMS and Customer Connect newsletters.

The utility explains that the electricity theft activities are wide-ranging and include illegal connections, network equipment theft, vandalism, meter bypasses and tampering, unauthorised network operations and purchasing electricity from illegal vendors.

“Load-reduction is a long-established process that Eskom uses in specific areas when there is sufficient electricity available, but a transformer’s integrity is at risk due to overloading, whereas load-shedding is used when the national grid is constrained and there is not sufficient capacity to generate electricity to meet demand. It is also a proactive measure that Eskom uses to protect human life, equipment worth millions of rands and people’s livelihoods,” says the state-owned company.

It observes that overloading of the transformers is recorded mainly during peak hours around 5am to 7am and 5pm to 7pm.

In areas where load-reduction has been implemented in the past, Eskom notes it has seen a significant decrease in equipment failure and prolonged outages.

Eskom’s electricity infrastructure is designed to handle loads based on known demand, which is legally connected customers and actual sales for specific areas, the company says.

It points out that exceeding these loads through electricity theft can overload the equipment, potentially causing explosions that may lead to electrical fires in the surrounding areas. Overloading presents a serious risk to lives and equipment, particularly mini-substations and transformers.

“While Eskom aims to exclude paying customers from load-reduction, the network’s configuration does not allow for dedicated supply lines to paying customers, making it impractical to service them separately.”

Change of fortunes

Meanwhile, the local solar industry is losing its momentum as a result of the load-shedding reprieve in South Africa.

To put things into perspective, this year, Jaltech, which provides long-term solar finance through power purchase agreements, says it issued more than 400 solar proposals to businesses along with its solar installer partners.

These proposals were valued at over R4.1 billion, averaging more than R120 million per week over the past 14 weeks, says the company.

“Of the R4.1 billion, only 15% have progressed to date, half of which we expect will be finalised within the next four to six weeks,” explains Jonty Sacks, partner at Jaltech. “Had load-shedding still been around, we estimate the amount would be double or triple.”

Sacks says that over the past 12 months, Jaltech built a solar portfolio comprising over 160 commercial and industrial assets.

Jaltech says despite the recent reduction in load-shedding, Eskom’s price for electricity continues to climb.

As of 1 July, it notes, the cost of municipal electricity went up by over 12.5%, and Eskom has now requested an increase of over 36% for next year. “The year-on-year double-digit escalation has already priced Eskom out of the market in many municipalities,” says Sacks.

In contrast, he points out that the cost of solar technology has been steadily decreasing to such an extent that through a power purchase agreement, energy consumers can already pay as little as 95c per kWh, compared to Eskom’s price, which can be as high as R3.