Eskom, government plans for Stage 5 and Stage 6 load shedding to stave off national blackouts

Eskom and government have started planning for Stage 5 and Stage 6 load shedding, according to officials who say that there is a race against time to ensure that a national blackout and grid collapse does not happen. 

Stage 5 and Stage 6 load shedding imply shedding 5000 MW and 6000 MW respectively. 

For businesses and residential consumers, it means more frequent cuts of the same duration, depending on where you live and who supplies your power.

Eskom's website also contains load shedding schedules up to Stage 8 but has not implemented stages beyond Stage 4.

At the first major briefing to explain the fourth day of Stage 4 power cuts, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan said that the government and Eskom were determined not to go beyond Stage 4 load shedding where 4000 MW has to be shed in long and regular blackouts to business and residential consumers. 

But it is now clear that there is planning to Stage 5 and Stage 6 in order to ensure that there is no national blackout.

“It will be a huge struggle to overcome this crisis,” said Gordhan.

An extensive briefing by Eskom executives and the Department of Public Enterprises on Tuesday has made it clear that the national power supply is more precarious than previously understood. South Africa has bought all available diesel on the high seas (to run emergency power), maintenance of power plants is in crisis because boiler tubes are bursting at eight units across three power stations and there is a planned strike early in April. 

What does this mean for you?

Load shedding is here to stay and possibly at extended lengths now being experienced across the country.  In addition, Eskom is in dispute with the National Energy Regulator with SA (Nersa) on its calculation of the Regulatory Clearing Account and it wants to be able to implement higher tariff increases.   

Nersa gave Eskom much lower additional tariff clearances than it requested, but these already added four percentage points to the allowable tariff of just above 9% for 2019/20. Is there light? A little.

On Thursday, a ship with diesel stocks will dock and this supply will ease the crisis; in 10 days, the government will report back with a deeper diagnosis of South Africa’s power woes. 

All that government could really offer on Tuesday is that there will be better communication of the crisis with the public and an effort to design blocks of blackouts friendlier to life and the economy.  

“We are very far from a point of total black-out. The system operators main task is to defend and protect the grid,” said Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza in a briefing designed to shed light after four days of load-shedding which has left the economy teetering and the nation seething.  

“We don’t want to remain in a vicious cycle where load-shedding shifts to other crises (like a water crisis because plants go down in power cuts). We are committed to rebuilding the energy supply and energy confidence,” said  Gordhan.  One of the reasons for the latest power crisis is that it takes too long to buy the parts Eskom needs to maintain its power station fleet, said Mabuza.

The government will be going to the National Treasury to seek an opt-out of strict procurement laws to provide for emergency and faster purchasing. 

“We are talking to the Treasury, to the Auditor-General to design processes very quickly to enable Eskom to be more responsive. (But we will) make sure no malfeasance is allowed during that process.  People will try to take the gap. We will make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Gordhan who earlier revealed that 3000 staff at Eskom are doing business with the utility. 

An estimated 1000 of the moonlighters have been identified.   

Staff trading with Eskom is a conflict of interest which has driven up prices and is one factor in the debt pile that Eskom is carrying. 

Mabuza also disputed a growing narrative by former executives of Eskom who use social media to disseminate a view that independent power producers (IPP’s) of renewable energy are responsible for the utility’s financial woes and for load-shedding.  

“The board has asked me to say it is not appropriate to keep quiet about the IPP’s. In the revenue determination of what is allowable, there’s a budget of R30bn for IPP’s. In so far as Eskom is concerned, what we buy on IPP’s we recoup from the tariff. We are neutral as far as Eskom is concerned – we pass it onto the consumer. If we spend more than R30bn we get it back through the RCA (the regulatory clearing account). We have many problems at Eskom; IPP’s are not the cause of our problems,” said Mabuza.  

“We fully understand that frustration and we want to apologise. At the same time, I want to appeal for understanding [in terms of] the nature of the challenges,” said Gordhan who did not give a deadline of when the deep and long load-shedding will stop. 

He appealed for understanding from the country and said that South Africans should conserve as much electricity as possible.  Eskom will reintroduce its programme of buying spare capacity from industrial users who may not need all the energy they are producing at private power stations. 

South Africa has 48000 megawatts of installed energy but it only currently has 28 000 megawatts available daily, causing the gaping deficit that leads to ricocheting power cuts. 

There are three senior fix-it teams working on the problem, said Gordhan. A presidential task team has presented one report to Cabinet; the Eskom board and management have presented their own 9-point turnaround plan and there is a team of between 12 and 14 private sector engineers combing through the Eskom power stations to present their own diagnostic report of what is going wrong.

Asked if too many cooks did not spoil the broth and whether government risked throwing structures at the problem, Gordhan said the power crisis needed more rather than fewer eyes on the problem or the risk of groupthink (where people begin to think alike and no longer question each other’s assumptions or points of view) was high. 

“There is an eagerness and determination to get to the bottom of what the problems are.  To answer the question: 'How long will load-shedding last'?  We will come back to you in 10 to 14 days. We have no magic formula. There is no magic wand to say load-shedding is over. It will be a huge struggle to overcome this crisis. We want to give the public as much information as possible,” said Gordhan. 

In the parking lot of the hotel in which the briefing was held, a generator droned loudly.  Rosebank in Johannesburg faced Stage 4 load-shedding for the entire period of the briefing - a graphic display of the crisis being described.