No need to panic over new load shedding stages

More stages of load shedding does not mean the power problems are worsening, says Nersa.

More stages of load shedding does not mean the power problems are worsening, says Nersa.

Published Jan 29, 2024


Durban — New year, old electricity problems. However, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) says there’s no need to panic because its proposal to increase load shedding from eight stages to 16 does not mean that the power crisis is about to intensify.

Instead, it’s about ensuring that there are systems in place to deal with any future emergency. The changes are contained in Nersa’s yet-to-be-finalised Code of Practice for Realtime Emergency Load Reduction and Restoration of Supply After a Major System Incident.

Nersa’s head of communications Charles Hlebela told the Sunday Tribune that the most significant aspects of the process under way was “the protection of the grid and the prevention of a total blackout, even in extreme circumstances. The standard seeks to guide power distributors to ensure quality of supply, as well as to assist them to develop plans to better manage load shedding,” he said.

Nersa has appealed for public comment on the increased stages and said the final outcome would be published in March.

Hlebela said that: “... it should be understood that the increasing of the load-shedding stages/ levels in the Power Quality Standard (NRS 048-9 Ed 3) does not mean that higher load-shedding stages will then be experienced, but is meant to holistically guide the System Operator (SO) for all possibilities, even in the state of disaster/catastrophe, to prevent a total blackout situation.”

In the code titled “Strictly controlled distribution”, Nersa said the restoration of power to all after a significant system incident or blackout could take days to weeks, and while the order in which the supply was restored to individual customers was often dictated by the nature of the incident, the ability to restore supply to essential loads as quickly as possible should form part of the ... regime.”

Hlebela this week said the proposed changes were made to cater for all possibilities that could, for a variety of reasons, arise in the future and were not necessarily based on the current or expected load-shedding levels, which was a result of supply not matching demand.

According to documents published for comment, stage 16 essentially meant that all the areas throughout the country which are divided into various blocks would be without power.

“Stage 16 schedules shall consist of all 16 blocks off simultaneously. All the load will be continuously off. Stage 16 is a controlled shutdown of the system at the customer end,” it reads.

Hlebela said the consultation process relating to the new stages had been concluded and Nersa was currently analysing comments. Announcement of its decision would be done by the end of the fiscal year, March 31, 2024

Despite its calls for public input towards the end of last year, Nersa said it had only received 11 responses from members of the public by the closing date for the submission of written comments.

“However, a public hearing could not be held as there was no request from stakeholders/members of the public to make representations at the public hearing, which was scheduled for 02 November 2023,” said Hlebela.

The Nersa document relating to the changes states: “The risk of a national blackout, whilst inherent to the operation of a large power system, has a low likelihood of materialising given operating protocols and protection systems in place.

“However, should a national blackout materialise, the impact on the country would be severe, impacting critical sectors of society and the economy, including personal and occupational safety, water supply and sewerage systems, telecommunications and transport infrastructure, and even national security.”

Sunday Tribune