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By Vukosi Maluleke

Digital Journalist

‘Notoriously over-optimistic’ – energy expert says more work needs to be done to end load shedding

Eskom has suspended load shedding until further notice.

Abundant electricity or electioneering? South African lights have not stayed on for this long in a while, so as expected, the sudden switch up has sparked skepticism amid an election season.

After suspending load shedding ahead of the Easter weekend, Eskom has extended its suspension indefinitely.

“This decision comes… as a result of sustained available generation capacity and adequate emergency reserves,” Eskom’s spokesperson said.

READ MORE: Load shedding to remain suspended as Eskom sustains its generation capacity

While many welcomed the constant power supply, others have questioned the timing of Eskom’s generosity.

Fueling further suspicion is the popular promise on the manifestos of various political parties to eradicate the country’s almost 20-year-long energy crisis within a year.

‘We’ve heard this before’

Weighing in, energy expert Chris Yelland said plenty of groundwork still needed to be done before one could guarantee the end of load shedding.

“But I think it’s over-optimistic to say that it’ll all be over this year.

“The promises of politicians before an election are always notoriously over-optimistic. They have a political agenda, and they want to try and paint a pretty picture before an election.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledged the improvements made in generation capacity thus far.

“There is new generation capacity coming [through] mainly from the private sector.

“There’s also generation from Eskom – through Medupi and Kusile that we could start seeing the benefits of as they start repairing units that have been broken down.”

However, he said it was too early to talk about the end of load shedding.

“There is some light on the horizon, but I think we need to be realistic.

“I think we need to do the right thing for a long time. We could certainly have load shedding in the future. I don’t think it is over yet, even though the intensity and frequency has improved.”

Possible reasons for reduced load shedding

When it comes to the current break from load shedding, Yelland said there were multiple factors at play, however a decrease in demand had tipped the scales, adding that the cost of electricity had caused significant shift.

“The price of electricity is going up dramatically, and so users are trying to save electricity whenever possible,” Yelland told The Citizen.

Adding to the budget squeeze, Eskom’s recent tariff hike of 12.74% pushed the cost of electricity through the roof.

READ MORE: Eskom’s new tariff: Here’s how your monthly electricity bill will change

In attempts to cope with the high cost of electricity, households are constantly making behavioural changes, using electricity more sparingly.

Yelland said this had significantly sliced the demand for electricity, and reduced pressure off the grid, resulting in reduced load shedding.

“The level of unplanned breakdowns at Eskom has decreased, which is a good thing. This has given Eskom some space to do additional maintenance work,” Yelland said.

“If you look [at} the first 40 weeks of this year, you will see that Eskom has been able to take out generators in order to do additional maintenance because of the extra space.”

However, the expert said the power producer’s generation capacity was not significantly different to how it was a year ago.

“If you look at the energy availability factor, which is an indication of how much generation is available to meet demand, it’s roughly the same as what it was last year.”

“The energy available effect from Eskom has not increased. Unplanned breakdowns have been offset by more planned outages. The availability is approximately the same as last year.”

Renewable energy

The growing preference for renewable energy has also contributed to a decline in demand, as South Africans invest in solar infrastructure to mitigate the impact of load shedding.

“This is at domestic and commercial level, and happened very significantly over the last two years – that is reducing demand for Eskom electricity,” Yelland said.

Furthermore, the move by major industries to produce their own electricity through renewable means, and wheeling it back to the grid has also trimmed demand.

“All of this is adding up – that is why we’re getting less load shedding.”

ALSO READ: Now 16 stages of load shedding but you don’t have to worry – Ramokgopa

Winter’s the worst?

Meanwhile, as the winter season kicks in, demand for electricity is expected to rise – especially in residential areas.

Asked if this could result in the return of load shedding, Yelland said “not necessarily”.

“Even though the demand for electricity is higher in winter, the supply of electricity is also higher because Eskom does less maintenance in winter.”

Ironically, higher stages of load shedding have typically been implemented during summer.

“If you look at history, you’ll see that we’ve had very severe load shedding in summer, so it’s not always necessarily worse in winter,” he explained.

Flashing back, Yelland noted that the first stage 6 load shedding happened in December 2019.

“We must not always think that winter is the worst,” he said.