Stage 8 power cuts or higher a real risk for South Africa, energy experts warn

Eskom's load shedding schedule ends at stage eight, but energy economist Lungile Mashele said that the potential of higher stages remained.

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JOHANNESBURG - Energy analysts say that stage eight power cuts are no longer a distant reality but a real risk.

This after Eskom increased its rolling power cuts from stage four to stage six this week due to a wage strike.

But power cuts were reduced to stage two overnight and will be ramped up to stage four again in the evening.

READ: How to check your load shedding schedule

Eskom's load shedding schedule ends at stage eight, but energy economist Lungile Mashele said that the potential of higher stages remained.

“This was something that was implemented in 2007/8 when we started experiencing load shedding as a guide and I don’t think they ever thought it would get to a point where we need to shed more than 8,000 megawatts and I think the system is telling them that after fighting this battle for 15 years, there probably will be additional stages of load shedding,” Mashele said.

But she said that the utility did have capacity to prevent a complete blackout: “The country currently uses about 32,000 megawatts. So, if Eskom is not able to supply us and we are, let’s say, at stage four, we could find ourselves sitting at about 26,000-odd megawatts that we can supply and that’s where the deficit would then come from.”

Experts say as striking workers return to their posts the risk of acute power cuts has been lowered.

‘THE RIGHT GEOGRAPHY’

Energy experts say that Cape Town's geography and the nature of its hydroelectric system sets it apart from the rest of the country as far as blackout schedules are concerned.

With the help of the Steenbras power station, the City of Cape Town has managed to stay two stages below the rest of the country.

The rest of South Africa is probably envious of residents in the City of Cape Town as the municipality manages to stay two stages below the rest of the country in terms of power cuts.

But how is the city managing to do this and why is the rest of the country not able to do the same?

Energy analysts say the city has benefitted from the Steenbras power station, because it has retained ownership of infrastructure.

But Chris Yelland said that there was a bit of luck at play for the city: “You need the right geography, such as a mountain, a top dam where you can pump water up a mountain and let water flow down a mountain to generate electricity.”

He said that the technology used worked perfectly in cases of emergency: “It enables the city to generate power at very short notice. It’s like having a very large battery at your disposal.”

In Johannesburg, the city benefits from the Kelvin power station but it’s no longer owned by the city, and it produces coal-powered energy which takes much longer to produce power.