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Load Shedding in Africa: Current Situation

In a number of parts of Africa, power companies being unable to ramp up generation to meet demand has become an all too common problem. While the sources of this trend are vital to study and investigate for the problem to be solved, one of the main ways in which this situation is manifesting itself is through load shedding. Load shedding can otherwise be called a brown-out, rolling black out, or forced demand response– essentially, to prevent overloading the system the utilities give customers a warning of given times when they’ll not be receiving service so to plan their activities accordingly. 

This approach of load shedding should be considered a last ditch strategy, as leaving large portions of customers without energy is inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. The goal is always a reliable grid, but many utilities in areas of Africa are having to resort to load shedding with alarming frequency and this is affecting daily life, industry, and more.

A few examples of the Africa-based load shedding stories that have hit the news in recent weeks:

  • Zesco, a utility in Zambia, has announced that they will start four-hour load shedding daily starting June 1, 2019, a situation prompted by low water levels in the Kariba North Bank that’s resulted in a power deficit of about 273 MW. 
  • Gold miners in the Mberengwa region of Zimbabwe have noted that load shedding is hitting the gold industry hard as more and more hours are lost without power, which is especially difficult given that the gold industry is one of the largest economic powerhouses in the nation
  • In an effort to eliminate the need for load shedding this upcoming winter, Eskom in South Africa has announced new tariffs to start on July 1 that are expected to prompt load demand for utilities, essentially pricing in some demand response strategy rather than force load shedding
  • This announcement comes after a recent round of load shedding in South Africa was attributed to cause reduced revenue in 85% of businesses, with 20% of businesses having to consider reducing staff or closing business if load shedding continues, among other dire factors.

The grid is not meant to be at the whims of the utilities and power supply cannot and should not be held hostage from customers. Businesses suffer, as do people who rely on electricity for vital health devices and other daily needs. The situation is a dangerous one to see in Africa– what do you think can be done about it? What are the root causes? How should the citizens respond?