When Bridget Mashumba’s son comes home from school, he is not allowed to watch TV because she needs to save the power in her inverter.
The Zimbabwean teaches English online, and because the load shedding in her country lasts about 18 hours a day, she cannot afford for her inverter to run out of power.
In fact, it was only recently that she was able to buy one; before that, she would have to go to her husband’s work offices in town to use their WiFi.
Load shedding in South Africa is being increased to frustratingly high levels as many areas experience up to six hours of power outages a day – but in Zimbabwe, the daily blackouts last up to 20 hours.
Mashumba says the power usually goes off at 5:30 each morning and comes back on before midnight. It used to be 11pm, but since the beginning of the year, she says it has been later.
“My life is run on my inverter.”
In terms of life and load shedding in Zimbabwe though, she says people “just generally go to work” to escape the outages.
“Those who stay at home during the day are usually housewives, and I think they just spend their time on social media.
“You can buy a data bundle for about US$15, which is what people do to pass the time on their phones.”
Her advice to South Africans suffering through the same power cuts is to invest in a solar panel, inverter, and battery, and also make the most out of potential family time.
“Social activities that families can enjoy together include board games like Scrabble and Monopoly. Outdoors, I would definitely recommend barbeque evenings where families can sit by the fire, talk, braai, and eat while they wait for the darkness to pass.”
To save money on electricity – well, the few hours they have each day, Mashumba explains that she purchases it as a bundle, which is cheaper than topping up mid-month. The problem, however, is that they rely more on gas, which is costlier.
“Everything from water to lunch is warmed up on the gas stove. We turn the stove on at 4:30am and that will heat the water until about 6:30am.
“We use about 9kg of gas a month. We pay US$10 every two weeks as we do not fill it up each time.”
Just like South Africans, Mashumba and her fellow citizens have just had to make life work during load shedding, even though their task is tougher due to the longer outages. However, Eskom has confirmed that they are working on higher stages of electricity cuts for this country.
Although load shedding has become synonymous with certain countries around the world, Paris-based energy organisation Elum Energy – which also has offices in Morocco, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and Brazil, says countries worldwide are struggling with electricity supply.
In a 2022 article, the company stated that these countries were experiencing load shedding:
Last year, the state of Rajasthan was forced to introduce load shedding for industrial and residential consumers as the country dealt with the worst power crisis it has seen in years. Parts of India experienced rolling blackouts for up to 10 hours or, in more remote areas, 12 hours a day.
This country also continues to grapple with prolonged and unscheduled power cuts. Its “severe” electricity crisis has hit both rural and urban areas, with Karachi experiencing no power for up to 15 hours and Lahore going without power for nearly 12 hours.
The article says Sri Lanka had also been experiencing months of daily power cuts amid an economic crisis which saw thousands of protestors storming the president’s home. The breakdown of a hydropower plant and lack of diesel fuel has led to an increase in load-shedding episodes.
Like South Africa, Elum Energy said daily power cuts are a part of everyday life in Lebanon. This is a result of an economic crisis that the World Bank has dubbed one of the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century”.
From November 2021 to November 2022, state-supplied electricity only came on for one or two hours a day.
Other countries with scheduled power cut plans for the future – and some of which may have been implemented in the past, include:
- New Zealand
The country has an automatic under-frequency load shedding (AUFLS) scheme that sheds large blocks of load to prevent the electricity system collapsing if there is a significant loss of supply.
The Government, however, says this scheme is a “last-resort mechanism” to restore the balance between electricity demand and supply.
Load shedding has sometimes been implemented suddenly in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia to protect the grid from damage that may lead to longer interruptions. It is also used as a “last resort”.
A load-shedding plan is in place for citizens of the United Kingdom due to restricted gas supply relating to alleged Russian sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline.
The country’s electricity grid is also under pressure, with the energy regulator having warned last year that scheduled blackouts could become a reality.
Like other European countries facing gas-supply shortages due to the Russia-Ukraine war, Swedes were warned in November last year that electricity supply could be interrupted.
The global solution
At The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos last year, experts said the long-term solution to the global energy crisis – which is, in European countries largely a result of the war in Ukraine – was not to replace fossil-fuel supplies but, instead, to focus on the energy transition.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said he believed the biggest part of the response to the energy crisis should come from putting emphasis on clean energy, renewables, energy-efficiency, and, in the countries where they have nuclear capacity, increasing nuclear production there.
“We don’t need to choose between an energy crisis and a climate crisis – we can solve both of them with the right investment,” he said.
While many people rely on gas to survive power cuts though, climate experts warn that it is not good for the environment. Yes, it is cleaner than coal, but not as clean as solar or wind energy.