Home PodcastJulie Alli Load shedding is preventing a nationwide blackout

Load shedding is preventing a nationwide blackout

by Luqmaan Rawat

Johannesburg – Eskom is currently struggling to keep the lights on in South Africa. The country reached stage 6 in load shedding recently. There are now concerns  the country could face a catastrophic blackout in the near future.

Although there are fears of a blackout, David Nicholls, Former Chief Nuclear Officer at Eskom, is confident that a blackout won’t occur. The system that Eskom works with gives him the confidence to say that.

 “The backbone of the system is a 400 000-volt transmission system which links the power stations together. Customers take power from that. A blackout is when that backbone collapses. The stations are mutually supported. If that backbone collapses, then there’s no power in the country. The power stations in the country themselves cannot start up. They need power to start up.”

Load shedding is effectively preventing this from happening, explained Nicholls. The reason for load shedding is so the transmission system does not fail.

“Load shedding is the national controller taking load away to keep that backbone secure. Yes we are seeing more and more load shedding because there is less capacity. The demand is not being met. That shouldn’t threaten the grid itself.”

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The economy being impacted by load shedding

Without a functioning power supply an economy suffers. Industrial work comes to a halt, businesses stop running and essentially everything needed to keep an economy going stops.

“The economic issue is quite simple. Because of decisions made in the 1990’s about how they were going to run the system and Eskom was not going to be the supplier of last resort. That the free market would supply the power. We’ve not had spare power in the country since 2006/07. What that means is every large industrialist that has asked to build a plant has been told ‘I’m sorry. You can’t have any electrical power supply’.”

 The economy is a quarter to a third less than it should be because of the lack of stable electricity. There are talks of building renewable electricity but putting in more renewable energy won’t help the countries. The bulk of load shedding takes place at night and solar energy is no help at night, said Nicholls.

 The new power stations Eskom was supposed to have built.

To increase the capacity of electricity generated Eskom decided to build two new power stations. However, so far these two power stations have not been operational. Nicholls explained that building a power station is not as simple as it looks. Eskom worsened their problem when they decided to demobilise their projects and engineering departments.

“Building power stations is a complex activity and you learn by doing it. You can read all the books in the world but until you do it, you won’t learn. Essentially Eskom went from 2003/04 where they were told they would never build another power station. Eskom went from that situation to within twenty four months being on site at two of the largest energy projects. We basically made all the classical mistakes. We should have been building years earlier.”

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Following the Western world

Whenever improvements are going to be made, people always point to Europe and the West. In most cases they would be right, but Nicholls says they too have had their own troubles. Texas had a complete black out last year and Europe is also struggling.

“In my opinion we followed the fashionable new wave of how you do power rather than the old one that worked. It must be borne in mind that in the mid 1990’s Eskom was told they kept the lights on with the lowest cost in the world for the last seventy years, but we think in the future the model we are applying won’t work. So, we are going to change the model.”

For now, Nicholls doesn’t believe there is any light at the end of the tunnel. Although there are claims that Eskom is suffering from people sabotaging equipment, this is just a small part of the problem. Eskom has always been reactive and now the country is suffering because of it.

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