ROGER HISLOP: Coping with load-shedding grief … and moving on
We’re not even three-quarters of the way through 2023 and SA has already experienced more power outages than it did during the whole of 2022, with regular stage 6 outages becoming a feature. How have South Africans coped with the crisis? What have they done to move on from the pain and uncertainty?
Over the past 16 years we have had to contend with a great deal of loss and uncertainty as a consequence of load-shedding. We have all lost something, the biggest being confidence that we are in control of our lives and our businesses.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously outlined the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. We have had to learn to live with what we have lost in a different way — a loss that comes with its own stages.
Below are the five stages of load-shedding grief:
Denial: When load-shedding first struck we complained a great deal about the never-before experienced disruptions to businesses and households. We bought battery-powered lanterns, we changed to gas stoves, we got UPSs for our Wi-Fi — but we believed all would return to normal before long.
Anger: Then we realised that load-shedding wasn’t going away and was a consequence of Eskom being unable to meet the growing demand for electricity, combined with underinvestment in maintenance and ill-considered energy policy. There was plenty of finger pointing, and a great deal of anger, but we were already in a hole and it was getting deeper.
Bargaining: The initial outages and relentless tariff increases prompted a boom in the sale of generators of all sizes. If only we could get through the next year or two, the thinking went, things would surely return to normal. Businesses paid tons of money for generators and solar, with a second whammy of diesel and maintenance costs. The bargain was turning into a bad deal.
Depression: With stages 5 and 6 almost every week, 2022 broke the record for the worst year of load-shedding, but 2023 will soon snatch this title. News from the state power utility is gloomy. Investor confidence has plummeted.
Acceptance: Well, we are where we are. Businesses and individual homeowners have invested billions of rand in generators, solar PV and battery systems. More billions will be spent, with companies pulling investment from manufacturing capacity, facilities, stock and R&D and pushing it into just keeping the lights on. We’ve all had to face that policy failure on a national level means we in the private sector have to take charge of our own energy destinies.
We need to move from the Five Stages of Loads-shedding Grief to a five-step plan to recover control of our lives — for the sake of our families, our businesses, and our country. But how do we do this? By adopting a path of maturity. We can sulk and complain, or we can get on with it and seize our energy future with both hands.
I call it the Five Stages of Energy Maturity:
Reduce energy consumption: Reduce waste and inefficiencies, while also cutting unnecessary costs by turning off loads when possible and shifting loads to when they put the least strain on supply.
Optimise generation: Use what you have more effectively. Run loads during the day to use up solar capacity and run gensets at optimal load level to reduce diesel consumption and maintenance costs.
Automate demand-side management: Shed what you need to, when you need to. But don’t rely on individuals to do it; automate your load control. Manage large loads, but also cut down on unnecessary consumption by the large number of small loads that all add up.
Curtail demand: Use power where and when it makes sense to do so and set hard limits on power and energy. Hard limits on power (kilowatts) means making sure not too much load comes on at the same time. Hard limits on energy (kilowatt hours) entails budgeting your use and sticking to it. Energy is now a finite resource to be used wisely.
Plan around energy independence: True acceptance. If there is stage 8 load-shedding or even grid collapse, there could be little or no utility power for days or weeks. Can your business still run? What do your essential systems need and can you supply them? Do you have enough solar to top up batteries? Do you have enough diesel stored?
In every one of these stages it comes down to knowing in great detail what you’re using power for, when and why. This requires granular, per-minute metering at multiple points in the electrical distribution network within a building. More importantly, it means implementing a robust, but simple, electrical load management system, where you can turn things on and off at the click of a button (or better yet, setting up some rules and letting the computers click the button).
We have lost some things that we didn’t know were so core to our lives — our happiness and our comfort, but also the very survival of our economy and the jobs it creates. We lost “utility energy supply” and we’ve had to come to terms with that. But after a bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth, we make a plan, sort it out and carry on as a country.
We’ve faced adversity before and overcome. We can do it again.
• Hislop is energy management systems executive at CBI :energy.
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