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What is Load Shedding?
Blog...What is Load Shedding?

What is Load Shedding?

Ecology News
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Ecology News
purple sky electrical grid

If you live in South Africa or have been planning a visit to the country – you’ve probably heard of load shedding. 

Many of us are concerned about conserving power to prevent skyrocketing electricity bills, but at the end of the day – we’re lucky to have access to electricity 24/7, as some countries like South Africa still struggle to evenly distribute power.

In this article, we’ll talk about load shedding, what it is, and how residents and tourists alike can still make the most of their time in the beautiful country.

What exactly is load shedding?

Load shedding refers to the method used to distribute electrical power across multiple sources demanding power.

Ultimately, the main goal of load shedding is to prevent stress on a primary energy source – which most often occurs when the demand for power outweighs the current available supply.

👉 Think of load shedding as when you’re trying to carry your groceries up five flights of stairs – odds are, one of your arms is going to get tired. As a result, you end up taking a break for a minute and switch arms until you feel strong enough to carry the groceries on your dominant arm again. Load shedding works the same way, as it tries to relieve pressure on the electrical grid.

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Basically, load shedding is a lot like living with a black-out – except load shedding is planned ahead of time. Normally, you can plan your day around the time you know the power is going to be out. However, some places in South Africa have backup power systems or generators to help keep their businesses running during a period of load shedding – such as a cafe or a data center.

👉 Load shedding has been going on for 20 years in South Africa, but has been exceptionally prevalent in the past year – even in countries like the United States.

view of cape town south africa

How does load shedding work?

Load shedding works by letting buildings and business owners know when there is going to be a power outage. Depending on how bad the circumstances are that have elicited the need for load shedding in the first place, load shedding can occur anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

However, load shedding can end earlier than expected if additional power sources become available or if demand tapers off sooner than planned – but in some countries like South Africa, load shedding persists for as long as they are told it will. 

While South Africa is most infamously known for load shedding, many other countries practice this concept to preserve energy around the world, such as:

Load shedding is most cooperative when it is planned, but it can also occur without fair warning.

Unprecedented load shedding is better known as a rolling blackout. This is when an electricity provider completely turns off the power without notifying businesses or residents beforehand, and can last for an indefinite amount of time. 

In addition to this, another type of load shedding exists – which are called brownouts. This type of load shedding is caused when a power supplier lowers their voltage distribution, most often during peak hours – in order to ensure they can meet the current demand.

👉 Think of when you’re in a busy cafe, where everyone is using the wifi – and suddenly, it takes much longer for your webpage to load. This is similar to the concept of brownouts.

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Load shedding is often a purposeful and strategic choice to cut off power, however – load shedding can also work as a coping mechanism in the event of:

  • A natural disaster such as a hurricane, flooding, or tornado that can knock out the power or cause harm to the electricity grid 
  • A failure on behalf of essential equipment to provide the initial power 
  • When a country is making an attempts to conserve energy or other natural resources
  • When consumer demand exceeds supply

👉 In South Africa’s case, load shedding exists due to the country’s never-ending energy crisis.

lightening over power grid

Is load shedding ever going to stop?

Load shedding as a whole will probably never go away until the world finds a way to properly and permanently handle the energy crisis, but that doesn't mean load shedding won’t take intermittent breaks.

For instance, South Africa recently suspended load shedding for a day – but as a result, even more rigorous load shedding schedules were released. Ultimately, due to a lack of political commitment – a country like South Africa will likely experience load shedding for years to come as long as renewable energy remains on the backburner of priorities. 

Even power house countries like the U.S. are in dire need of improvement to their power grid to prevent load shedding or power outages in the future.

Kicking load shedding to the curb would require the following:

  • Improved Infrastructure: If countries that rely on load shedding were to invest in better electricity grids and distribution infrastructure, there would be no need for consistent load shedding. However, this would require money and time to build new power plants and modernize their current grids – something financially out of reach for many countries that rely on load shedding. 
  • Implementing Renewable Energy Sources: If there were more solar panels or wind farms in countries that make use of load shedding, these renewable energies could serve as back up power for when the main grid is down. In addition to this, it would help these countries work towards a clean energy economy. 
  • Encouraging Energy Efficiency: Working towards mitigating the need for load shedding is a team effort. If everyone in the country or city in question works to implement greater energy efficiency, they can collectively reduce the overall demand for electricity – and allow for greater supply. This would make load shedding a moot point. 
  • Political Interest: Load shedding can take greater control when a country is politically unstable. Therefore, political stability is a prelude to getting rid of load shedding once and for all.
  • Financial Stability: It costs money to implement many of the tactics required to make load shedding obsolete – such as more energy efficient equipment and renewable energy.

👉 Unfortunately, many countries that rely on load shedding still do not have the political or economic stability to make these changes.

cape town view

How does load shedding affect the country or tourism?

Load shedding isn’t just an inconvenience, but can cause extensive harm to society, residents, and tourists in a country that relies on load shedding to evenly distribute power.

👉 Think about it: imagine the frustration of working on a final paper due for end-of-semester college grands, and you forgot that the power was going to turn off – and end up losing all of your work. These days, most people handle their tasks or school assignments via the cloud – rendering most of our daily operations co-dependent on functioning electricity to use an available WiFi connection.

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However, it isn’t just working on projects online that can be disrupted – but pivotal, real-life scenarios. 

Here are a few examples of how load shedding can harm society:

  • Interruptions to education, as power can interfere with lessons being taught at school
  • Failure to save lives as power disruptions can implicate hospital operations
  • Strain on social relationships for people who rely on digital technology for communication
  • Difficulty to maintain safety if someone isolated is unable to contact someone who would normally be connected to the internet
  • Small businesses that struggle to make profit as load shedding can often disrupt their normal services 

👉 In addition to all of this, it isn’t just residents who have to deal with load shedding – but tourists, too.

Cape Town alone saw a rapid increase in tourism in the first half of 2023 – with 4.1 million visitors. While this isn't the same kind of mass tourism we see during Europe’s high season, it still relates to millions of people who opt to travel to countries with load shedding.

Many tourists might find load shedding to be a nuisance, as some travelers may view their trip as more of a vacation over an adventure – and the lack of luxury to use power at any time they want may leave them dissatisfied with their visit. 

Is there a way that people who experience load shedding can make the most of it?

orange sunset over power grid

How can you make the most of your time while visiting or living in a country with load shedding?

Visiting or living in a country with load shedding doesn’t have to mean it’s the end of the world – it’s simply a different way of living life. In fact, learning to live with load shedding could end up being a blessing for your mental health – and teach you the value of disconnecting from the digital world.

Here are a few ways to learn to adapt with load shedding:

  • Familiarize Yourself the Load Shedding Schedule: Even though a load shedding schedule is often subject to change, getting used to the times of day where you are likely to be without power can help you get used to load shedding. 
  • Manage Your Tasks Better: Get into the habit of getting any tasks that require electricity done before the power goes out. This way, you learn to work alongside load shedding instead of against it. 
  • Work Remotely: If it’s possible, working from home is a good option for those who live in counties that experience load shedding – as it might help you to maximize your productivity.
  • Buy a Strong Data Plan or a Generator: If you truly cannot function without consistent power, it might be helpful to buy a strong data plan for your cellular device to use as a hotspot when WiFi is unavailable. For business owners, a generator might prove useful to provide customers with reliable connectivity – such as WiFi for coffee shops. 
  • Spend Your Time Outside During Load Shedding: Many countries with load shedding that people visit have exquisite and enticing outdoor activities. For instance, South Africa is a beautiful country known for its stunning hikes, beaches, and coast-hugging drives. Therefore, one of the best ways to beat load shedding is to forget that electricity exists at all. Plan ahead to go spend your “load shedding lockdown” time outdoors and spend time in nature during hours where electricity is cut off.

Even though load shedding seems inconvenient on the surface, it could actually serve as an opportunity for you to improve your time management skills, exercise outdoors, and take part in activities that don’t require the internet or electricity.

Ultimately, load shedding continues to serve as a way for countries who struggle with power distribution to evenly transmit power across their energy grids. It might be a long time until load shedding is eradicated entirely, but in the meantime – it’s best to look on the bright side and see what living or visiting a country with load shedding could teach you.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about load shedding has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

It can be overwhelming to figure out how to implement energy efficiency or renewable energy sources into your business model, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help you find ways to improve energy efficiency and decrease the dependency on fossil fuels in your own company.

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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