Load-shedding deals severe blows to agriculture

17 November 2023

By: Liana Mocke

The agricultural sector is one of the economic sectors most affected by the consequences of load-shedding. On the eve of a busy period for many parts of the sector, uncertainty hangs in the air about whether it will have to endure such dire load-shedding again this summer.

The adverse impact of load-shedding on South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to range from R204 million to R899 million a day. According to the Reserve Bank, load-shedding has significant adverse consequences for mining, transportation, storage, manufacturing, forestry and fisheries, in addition to agriculture.

Earlier this year, the agricultural sector warned that load-shedding at stage 4 and higher places severe pressure on irrigation and cooling, among other things. In January, South Africa was at stage 6 on three days and stage 5 for five days, with the rest of the month almost continuously at stage 4 and stage 2 being implemented only twice.

Load-shedding levels currently fluctuate between stage 2 and stage 3.

Eskom reported this week on its operations, saying significant progress has been made this year in maintaining power plants, bringing units online and expanding its transmission network, which is one of the major headaches for the power giant.

Meanwhile, the National Energy Regulator has granted permission for Eskom’s Koeberg unit 1 to be switched back on after it was taken out of service for maintenance work in December 2022. The process of getting the unit back online could last up to two weeks. And once unit 1 is generating power again, unit 2 will be taken out of service for maintenance and upgrades. Each Koeberg unit delivers 920 MW of electricity, equivalent to one level of load-shedding. It is uncertain how long unit 2 will be out of service.

Eskom also hopes Kusile units 1 to 5 will be online by the end of December. If this happens, they could add 4 000 MW to the grid. Unit 6 will not be ready to supply power to the grid by the end of the year, and Medupi unit 4, which can supply 800 MW, is expected to come online only in June 2024.

Eskom’s plan to expand capacity on the network

Segomoco Scheppers, Eskom’s head of transmission, said 53 GW of new generation capacity must be added to the network to meet electricity demand by 2032.

Over the next decade, Eskom must build 14 200 km of new power lines. The expansion is especially necessary to accommodate connections from new generation projects, including renewable energy. In the Western Cape and Northern Cape, where large renewable projects generate solar and wind power, significant restrictions are experienced on the network.

Leslie Naidoo, senior manager of network planning, said the transmission system must be adjusted to shift power from the southern parts of the country to the north, where demand for electricity is highest.

Some of the expansions include the need to install 170 new transformers necessary to accommodate new solar and wind power projects.

About 72% of generation capacity is in Mpumalanga from coal-fired power plants. “But it is increasingly shifting to the southern parts of South Africa as more renewable energy flows become available and coal-fired power plants in the north of South Africa are taken out of service.

“Significant investments will be needed, especially in the Northern, Western and Southern Cape, where there is a shortage of network infrastructure,” Naidoo said. However, there is quite a bit of available capacity in Mpumalanga, North West and KwaZulu-Natal.

A survey of developers conducted by Eskom, the South African Wind Energy Association and the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association shows that 66 GW of wind and solar power projects are being developed across the country.

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