Load Shedding Explained
Currently, South Africa has one major electricity provider – Eskom. Due to financial and maintenance constraints, Eskom has periods where it needs to shut off power delivery to areas, on rotation, during periods of maintenance, in order to prevent a full-scale blackout.
In a blackout, almost the entire country’s electricity would go out, and may take days to come back up again. It goes without saying that everything must be done to prevent this from happening, as the consequences would be dire. Hence the process of load shedding.
Various areas simultaneously have their power disconnected for a period of a few hours during periods of load shedding. When one group comes back online, another goes down, while Eskom manages delivery and performs necessary maintenance.
Load shedding does not occur every day in South Africa. Residents follow local news, apps, and city websites, in order to see if and when shedding will occur. The South African government says that it is developing long-term solutions to make load shedding a thing of the past, but until these become a reality, load shedding will be an unfortunate part of life for South Africans. This does not mean that people have to sit idly by while it happens, however. We have provided some information and tips below to help during periods of load shedding.
Load Shedding Stages
Load shedding may take place under a number of different stages, depending on the degree to which Eskom is short on power. The higher the stage, the more areas need to have their power turned off simultaneously. When load shedding is announced, the stage that applies is announced at the same time, and corresponding schedules need to be checked.
- Stage 1: Requires load-shedding of up to 1,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 2.5 hours.
- Stage 2: Requires load-shedding of up to 2,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 2.5 hours.
- Stage 3: Requires load-shedding of up to 3,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 2.5 hours.
- Stage 4: Requires load-shedding of up to 4,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 2.5 hours.
- Stage 5: Requires load-shedding of up to 5,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 4.5 hours.
- Stage 6: Requires load-shedding of up to 6,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 4.5 hours.
- Stage 7: Requires load-shedding of up to 7,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 4.5 hours.
- Stage 8: Requires load-shedding of up to 8,000 MW. Power outage periods (per neighborhood) last up to 4.5 hours.
More information about the various stages can be found on the Eskom website here.
It is a good idea to bookmark or print your schedule, so that you can check it easily. It is quite likely that your work is in a different load shedding area to your home, so it is advisable to check the schedules for both.
A popular app (for Android and iOS devices) that will notify you when it is your time for load shedding can be found here.
Eskom schedules can be found on the Eskom website here.
City schedules can be found on the websites of local municipalities:
Due to the Steenbras dam’s hydro-power system that feeds into the local grid, the City of Cape Town often manages to avoid Stage 1 load shedding.
There are some important things to consider if you may be caught up in load shedding. We have outlined a few below.
- Keep flashlights, candles, and lighters in close reach to provide light when the power goes out. There are also battery-powered emergency lights available online, some of which charge during normal power delivery, and turn on automatically when load shedding begins.
- Small supplies of battery power can be bought on the cheap these days. Examples are power banks to keep phones, routers, and laptops running. These can be bought easily from stores like Takealot and Loot.
- Make sure your food and medication can stay cool in your fridge for a few hours during power outages.
- Ensure you have sufficient gas in your car, as many stations are unable to pump during load shedding.
- Ensure you have sufficient cash, as many card machines do not function during load shedding.
- Consider methods of contact, as not all cellular towers have backup generators, and you may therefore not be able to make cell phone calls during load shedding.
- Make sure that all electrical outlets have surge protectors. Power surges when electricity returns are rare, but if they do occur, they can severely damage items plugged into affected outlets. Considering the cost of surge protectors as compared to the value of items, such as TVs and computers, plugged into outlets, they are worth buying.
- Plan your meals (a gas stove may help), showers (geysers should stay warm during single outage periods), and other daily activities around the load shedding schedule. Even if there is no planned shedding, it is advisable to get into a pattern around the schedule, as load shedding can begin at any time. It is a good idea to check the schedule for your city at the start of each day.
- Check the batteries attached to any essential parts of your home and business, to be sure they are in working order as a backup if the power goes out. These items include gate and garage motors and alarm systems.
- Consider investing in an inverter and battery backup system to keep preferred items on during outages. These range quite widely in price, depending on the desired amount of electricity generated, and can be bought from numerous online stores, as well as brick and mortar stores such as Makro and Game, or from specialized installation companies. A cheaper UPS may be able to keep your fiber CPE box (or 3G dongle) and router running during outages. Costs involved for getting completely off the grid (for example by using a solar power system) may be high, but doing so provides a comprehensive, long-term solution.
It is important to note that, unlike Relocation Africa, which has a solar power system you can read more about here, many businesses in South Africa do not have backup power provision for when load shedding occurs. Even those that do may have periods when they switch over, during which they do not have a supply of electricity. This may mean that their employees may not have access to emails when servers are down, and phone lines may not work for inbound and outbound calls. Many supermarkets use backup generators to keep certain lights on, as well as continue to run fridges, so you should still be able to do shopping at certain stores when the power in the area is out. The only sites where load shedding does not occur are buildings deemed essential to the operations of the city as a whole (such as Parliamentary buildings, waste processing plants, and hospitals), and certain buildings in close proximity to those. All other businesses have to react to the outages in much the same way as South African residents do at home.
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