Tshwarelo Hunter Mogakane
South Africans could someday wake up to the shock of load shedding Stage 16, only if those in charge of providing electricity do not take major steps to mitigate the impact of lower supply to the ever-growing demand for power.
During an Energy Action Plan update meeting held via the Zoom platform, Eskom’s head of generation, Thomas Conradie, confirmed that there was a draft document aimed at investigating how the country would respond to the possibility of Stage 16.
He, however, cautioned against public panic.
“In terms of the question of the load shedding framework for the highest stages even up to State 16, one must acknowledge that the actual document that governs and deals with load shedding and how it gets applied, there is a workgroup working on that, which is not only Eskom but also industry reviewing and updating that document.
“The responsible thing is to make sure that this document caters for higher stages of load shedding and that those schedules are being developed upfront so that we have a more systematic approach if we require it and that we don’t need to jump around,” said Conradie.
In his answering affidavit to an ongoing court case against the government’s energy authorities, former Eskom group chief executive Andre De Ruyter described what a total collapse of the grid could look like.
“Load shedding is implemented to save the national electricity grid from complete collapse and a resulting national blackout. If supply and demand are not kept in balance on the national electricity grid, the grid will collapse and the entire country will experience a blackout or total loss of electricity supply.
“How long such a blackout would last is impossible to predict with any certainty. However… Eskom estimates that it could take up to several weeks to restore the electricity grid.
“Without wishing to sound alarmist, the consequences of such a blackout would be catastrophic. Some of the likely impacts include the loss or interruption of water supply and sewerage treatment,” De Ruyter said.
He added that such a blackout could also see South Africans going without internet and fuel.
“…The shutdown of telephone and internet services; rationing and shortages of liquid fuel (petrol and diesel) with knock-on impacts on transport, industry, and institutions that depend on liquid fuel to run backup generators (including hospitals, laboratories, morgues).
“Digital platforms, including payment platforms and automatic teller machines not running with the consequence of a shortage of hard currency; chaos on the roads, as traffic lights go down; shops and residents will struggle to keep produce fresh, and food supplies will be impacted,” he said.
De Ruyter further estimated that there would be random looting and vandalism as public unrest intensified.
“Self-evidently, a blackout is a risk that South Africa cannot afford to take,” he said.
Independent energy analyst Tshepo Kgadima said it was horrifying to learn about the Stage 16 document.
“It is equally shocking that following the declaration of a National State of Disaster on electricity, Cooperative Governance, and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma gazetted woefully inadequate and inappropriate regulations.
“These will exacerbate the already dire situation and not only heighten the risk of the electricity grid collapse but also lead to fruitless and wasteful expenditure in excess of R100 billion in the next 12 months,” he said.
Energy expert Tshepo Kgadima said should the grid be allowed to collapse, it would “trigger panic and chaos” across the country.
“The most appropriate measures to mitigate the catastrophic impact of the imminent collapse of the electricity grid would have been to urgently acquire emergency strategic fuels reserves for at least 30 days because it would take at least two to three weeks to recover a collapsed electricity grid in South Africa. There is a very limited window of opportunity for Eskom to retain control of the electricity system and avert the catastrophic disaster of a collapse of the grid,” Kgadima said.