Eskom blackout: If load shedding 'fails', expect these six terrifying scenarios

What makes a winter cold front even worse? Eskom cutting the power, of course. Load shedding is in place from midday on Tuesday, and it's likely to be with us for some time to come. The utility has served to remind energy consumers that this course of action is necessary to prevent a blackout – but what, exactly, does this mean?

What is the difference between load shedding and a blackout?


Load shedding is the term given to managed power cuts implemented by Eskom, used to manage demand on a grid that has been affected by technical issues. A blackout, however, is the unplanned collapse of the entire national grid when demand far outweighs supply, and overwhelms the infrastructure Eskom has put in place.


A blackout is not necessarily another term for load shedding. Eskom describe the events as two totally different things.


"If preventative measures like load shedding prove to be insufficient, the national grid will collapse. This is what is known as a blackout. It's an unforeseen circumstance, and therefore, no announcement could be made in advance. Any national blackout would have 'massive implications' for the country."Eskom statement

How would South Africa 'go beyond' load shedding?


Demand would first need to exceed the available supply. This is what often leads to load shedding. That causes equipment such as generators and transformers to become 'overloaded', and to avoid catastrophic failures, the devices will trip-out.


If the supply decreases further, and demand remains at high levels, we will see something called a 'cascading trip-out'. This is where things like cables and switch gears become overloaded, bringing South Africa to the brink of a total blackout nationwide. Once the grid reaches a certain point, it will collapse completely – plunging the country into absolute darkness.

What a full-scale blackout would mean for South Africa:

  1. It could take South Africa 'up to three weeks' to fully restore power after a blackout, energy expert Chris Yelland claims.

  2. Phone services and telecommunication devices could be out of service for a long while. Generators would, eventually, run out of fuel to keep them going – that's according to a report presented by Helen Zille.[*]From that same study, it's suggested that sewage plants would be unable to pump waste – causing a bio-hazardous nightmare.[*]Taps 'may run dry within a couple of days'. In the event of a blackout, Eskom advises citizens to keep five litres of water per person, per day available.[*]Medical facilities, workplaces, and food stores would all struggle to stay open, a 2015 report from City Press shows.[*]One expert states that looting and civil unrest would 'almost certainly' erupt if the power went out indefinitely.


Have we ever been close to a 'total shutdown' before?


There have been a few close calls: A round of load shedding in 2015 prompted Eskom to plan for the worse, but thankfully, their interventions haven't been needed. In March 2019, a series of Stage 4 cuts pushed the firm towards some very uncomfortable territory. Last Christmas, Eskom rolled out Stage 6 load shedding – the worst ever seen in SA.


This current round of load shedding isn't likely to lead to our first national blackout – although, being honest, it would be incredibly on-brand for 2020. The power cuts are likely to last for a few days this week, but as far as we understand, the situation isn't critical. Not yet, anyway…

This post is currently not accepting comments.