Register to comment and receive news in your inboxRegister or Log in

Load Shedding vs Load Curtailment: Counting the costs for industry

As of 1 March 2024, Eskom has taken over control of load shedding in the City of Ekurhuleni. This, after the city reportedly failed to execute power outages when required. However, the metro has negotiated with the power utility for load curtailment to be implemented instead, which will see businesses reportedly being responsible for reducing their electricity consumption by 30%.

“Although this has been met with protest, it is still better than the alternative,” says Dr Andrew Dickson, Engineering Executive at CBI-electric: low voltage, who explains that businesses are keenly aware that when the power goes out, production stops, resulting in reduced output and lower profitability. “However, for a number of companies operating in Ekurhuleni’s industrial sector, the switch-off of machinery during load shedding renders them unable to operate for extended periods as it can take equipment anywhere from a few hours to more than 24 hours to return to operation.”

“Placed in a situation where outages can occur multiple times a day, this will bring business to a standstill and may even force several companies to close,” he points out. “Moreover, this could have significant knock-on effects, especially as Ekurhuleni is an industrial hub contributing around 6.8% to South Africa’s GDP and 19.7% to that of the Gauteng province. Looking at the bigger picture, this might even exacerbate the ongoing de-industrialisation trend taking place in the country, where the rate of decline is already outpacing that of any other region in the world.”

“Load curtailment, however, puts the power – so to speak – back in businessowners’ hands,” notes Dr Dickson. “By voluntarily reducing their electricity consumption, they can alleviate strain on the grid and avoid the complete blackout of electricity supply, thereby minimising disruptions not only to their operations but also to the community and economy at large.”

For this to work, he stresses that companies must implement load reduction plans. “This is critical as Eskom continuously monitors the electricity usage of its curtailment customers to ensure that agreed-upon reductions are being achieved. If three instances of non-compliance are detected, load shedding will be reinstated.”

Dr Dickson highlights that the first step should be measuring how much power is being consumed as well as where, why and when. “This information can then be used to build a plan that takes energy demand patterns into account. For example, this could help companies change when they use the most power by restructuring their operations, determine which manufacturing processes should happen when in order to minimise peaks and dips in daily power usage and adjust how shift structures work to optimise the manufacturing process.”

“Using timers or load controllers to schedule when loads turn on or off could also help businesses reduce electricity wastage,” he adds. “These could be deployed to prevent systems like air conditioners, geysers and hydro boils from running unnecessarily after business hours. Load controllers, combined with room occupancy sensors, could also be used to switch off electrical equipment in unoccupied offices or meeting rooms so that power is only consumed when and where it’s needed.”

“Additional electricity saving measures could include installing natural lighting options like light pipes instead of electric lighting and putting in draught-doors to reduce heating and cooling costs,” shares Dr Dickson.

He concludes by saying, “Industrial businesses must change their consumption patterns so that we can not only keep the lights on, but also keep producing, profiting and propelling economic prosperity. If we fail to do so, the fallout will affect us all.”