Rolling Blackouts in South Africa

Every South African is all too familiar with “rolling blackouts” — you just know them by a different name.

In most parts of the world, scheduled power outages are a relatively rare occurrence…

In South Africa, they’ve become an unfortunate part of everyday life known as load-shedding.

Read on to find out more about why rolling blackouts have become commonplace for South Africans, the reasons behind load-shedding, and the outlook for the future.

(Source: Eskom)

What Are Rolling Blackouts?

Rolling blackouts are power outages scheduled by utilities or electricity providers designed to reduce strain on the energy grid during specified time periods.

Infrequent in most of the world, rolling blackouts are typically a response to unusual spikes in demand caused by extreme weather or aging infrastructure. 

In South Africa, though, load-shedding — Eskom’s term for a rolling blackout — has occurred regularly since 2007.

(Source: BusinessTech)

To date, 2023 was the worst year on record for load-shedding. According to BusinessTech:

The average South African citizen spent 19.9% of the year with zero power. The accumulated blackout hours in 2023 were more than all the hours counted between 2014 and 2022 combined, making up 56% of the 129.5 days of total blackout hours between 2014 and 2023.    

Unfortunately, the outlook for 2024 is far from rosy. 

Eskom primarily relies on burning coal to generate electricity. But even at 2023 peak capacity, the maximum base load achieved was 18.5GW — 2GW below what experts say is required to “keep chronic load shedding at bay.”

Despite forecasts by independent energy analysts like Pieter Jordaan that load shedding may “moderate” in 2024, even optimistic projections predict an average time without power at 2.5 blackout hours per day.    

How Long Do Rolling Blackouts Last?

Due to extreme weather events and aging infrastructure, unscheduled blackouts are increasing worldwide.

However, rolling blackouts are rare for much of the globe and usually last a few weeks or a month at the most. 

For example, rolling blackouts may be instituted in hot climates during the summer months when the demand for electricity for air conditioning, etc, threatens to cause an extended widespread power outage.

South Africa is the only developed economy where load-shedding has become a way of life.

(Source: Eskom)

As you’re probably all well aware, the duration and timing of rolling blackouts in South Africa are determined by the stages of load-shedding — with Stage One being the least disruptive and Stage 8 being the worst (to date).

Despite earlier ANC denials, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe recently admitted South Africa experienced stage 8 load-shedding at the beginning of 2023.

(Source: Daily Investor)

Despite experiencing the worst-ever load-shedding in 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa claims “that the ANC government is making progress in addressing the electricity crisis.”

Why Is South Africa Having an Electricity Crisis?

Bloomberg News recently blamed South Africa’s electricity crisis on “old and poorly maintained power stations run by [a] debt-stricken state utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd [that] can’t keep up with demand.

“Impossible promises” by ANC officials to address the ongoing electricity crisis that’s resulted in years of rolling blackouts have failed to pan out.

Load-shedding has become such a political liability that media outlets like News24 and the BBC have predicted that the ANC could lose a federal election for the first time since it came to power in 1994

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola recently said, “Electricity affects everything, economic growth, our ability to create jobs — all of that is dependent on electricity…  Stabilizing supply before the vote is the top concern of the ANC.”

Despite the failure to increase the output of power plants that burn fossil fuels sufficiently to meet demand, the ANC has proven resistant to embracing renewable energy.

A tax credit scheme to incentivise individual purchases of residential solar panels was launched in 2023, but the R15M cap on savings limited its effectiveness

On an infrastructure level, the recently proposed “roadmap for the future of electricity in South Africa” — the draft Integrated Resource Plan — has been called “a major disappointment” and a “shoddy… admission of failure” that doesn’t adequately address the ongoing electricity crisis.  

The proposal relies on building “6,000MW of new gas-fired power stations by 2030.” Opponents cite the severe environmental impact of burning more fossil fuels and the inevitability of “major delays and cost overruns.”

Critics also claim that the proposal significantly overestimates the cost of harvesting plentiful solar power and abundant wind. 

According to The Conversation: “It is… inexplicable that the ministry’s team has concluded that the ‘Renewable Energy’ scenario is by far the most expensive.”   


(Source: Codera)

Short & Long-Term Impacts of the South African Electricity Crisis

If you live in South Africa, you don’t need to be told what a nightmare load-shedding has been for everybody.

A recent SARS research paper states, “Since the beginning of load-shedding one decade ago, the level of life of South  Africans has never been the same again.”

Aside from the devastating impact of rolling blackouts on the day-to-day lives of South African people and companies, what are the long and short-term effects on the country and its economy?

Here’s a handful of data points.

Short-term Impacts

Long-term Impacts

  • According to Daily Maverick: “Most economists believe last year’s rolling blackouts cost the country between R400-billion and R600-billion, but the true cost of 14 years of systemic failure runs north of R3-trillion.”
  • Lost jobs
  • Failed businesses
  • Loss of investor confidence
  • “The downgrading of South Africa from investment grade sovereign risk to junk status, ‘in no small measure’ due to power shortages, rolling blackouts and policy failures… alone exceeds R3-trillion to R5-trillion.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Is There a Possibility of a Total Blackout in South Africa?

Eskom officials claim there is little chance of a “total grid collapse” in South Africa — partially due to the effectiveness of load-shedding measures. Despite rolling blackouts reaching record highs in 2023, these are due to a lack of overall capacity, and the possibility of a system-wide failure remains remote. Independent experts concur, citing six safeguards that are in place against a nationwide power outage.

Final Thoughts

No South African will deny the devastating impact of rolling blackouts — load-shedding — on society.

Both on a personal and national level, 15+ years of energy insecurity has taken a vicious toll on the country.

Despite forecasts that 2024 may not be as bad as 2023, load-shedding appears to be here to stay — at least for the foreseeable future.

While a national solution remains elusive, solutions are available to you and your family.

Check out EcoFlow’s DELTA solar generators and reduce (or eliminate) your dependence on Eskom today.

EcoFlow is a portable power and renewable energy solutions company. Since its founding in 2017, EcoFlow has provided peace-of-mind power to customers in over 85 markets through its DELTA and RIVER product lines of portable power stations and eco-friendly accessories.


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