What is happening with electricity consumption?

Electricity consumption growth rate doubled to 1% in the first 11 months of 2018. Where has the supply to meet this increased demand come from?

The growth rate of electricity distribution or consumption doubled to 1.0% year-on-year (y/y) in the first 11 months of 2018 compared with 0.5% in the whole of 2017, according to data released by Statistics South Africa this week.

This followed two years of declining consumption as state-owned electricity utility Eskom was unable to meet demand and had to institute rotational load-shedding. Rotational load-shedding normally means a suburb will lose up to two hours a day in Stage 1 loadshedding when Eskom is short 1,000 MW or three hours a day in a stage 2 or 2,000 MW shortfall event.

In 2015 national electricity consumption fell by 1.3% and in 2016 it dropped by 1.0%. This meant that the total annual consumption of 229,342 Gigawatt-hours (GWh)in 2017 was less than the 2007 total of 241,170 GWh even though the population and the economy grew by more than 10% over this period.

The eleven months 2018 data also shows that Eskom generation declined by 0.3%, so the increase in demand was met by generation provided by Independent Power Producers (IPP). The amount produced by IPPs has increased from only 884 GWh in December 2007 to 2,060 GWh in November 2018, when it accounted for 9.7% of total generation.

The failure of Eskom is even more marked if one considers that a fair portion of the electricity it generates is used in its own power plants to provide cooling as it aims to reduce its water consumption. In the first 11 months, it increased its own usage by 4.2% y/y to 714 GWh, even as it reduces its own generation by 684 GWh. The resultant 1,398 GWh decline in electricity provided to non-Eskom users is equal to some 70% of one month’s generation by IPPs.

Eskom instituted load-shedding on an intermittent basis since November 29 2018 after the connection with Mozambique broke down and it lost 700 Megawatts of power imports. There was no load shedding over the Festive Season as many factories shut down for the holiday period, but Eskom has warned that it may have to implement load shedding from January 15 onwards when the factories re-open.

Hopefully, the connection with Mozambique has now been restored and urgent maintenance on ageing power plants has taken place over December, so the dire warnings of load shedding will not take place. It, however, does not mean that power saving should be abandoned, as the system remains constrained and coal stocks at various power stations are not as much as they should be.

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