Life with load shedding

Load shedding has been top of mind for many of us here in South Africa, but many around the world may not realize the impact it can have on daily life. So here is some insight into what life is like with load shedding.

First, it’s important to understand what load shedding is. It’s an action to reduce the load on something, in this case I’m referring specifically to reducing the demand on an electrical supply in order to avoid excessive load on the generating plant. Usually reserved for a last resort solution, the act of load shedding can help prevent a system-wide blackout and allows for users affected in the shed to plan accordingly instead of being surprised by a blackout at an unknown time for an unknown duration. The “action” here is when the electrical utility purposely turns off part of the electrical grid in order to allow the other parts to remain stable.

Here’s how it works in my life:

  • When load shedding is required, I typically receive a schedule about a week in advance. That schedule will provide information similar to the following:
    • Monday: from 08:00 to 10:00 and again from 23:00 to 01:00 (Tues.)
    • Tuesday: from 12:00 to 14:00 and again from 19:00 to 21:00
    • Wednesday: none
    • Thursday: from 02:00 to 06:00
    • Friday: none
    • Saturday: from 09:00 to 11:00 and again from 16:00 to 18:00
    • Sunday: from 19:00 to 23:00
  • This means that I need to plan my days to accommodate the times when I won’t have electricity at home. Some of the tactics I use to achieve this include the following:
    • Ensure that my cell phone and laptop computer are fully charged prior to a scheduled shed
    • Minimizing the number of times I open my refrigerator and freezer to ensure no loss of food supply.
    • Making arrangements to be at a friend or family member’s house outside of the load shedding zone.
    • Scheduling work appointments and phone calls outside of the shedding window
    • Having candles, a flashlight and/or a lantern (and sufficient supply of batteries if necessary) on hand for when load shedding happens at night.

While many see load shedding as an enormous inconvenience, I have to admit I prefer it to the alternative of a country-wide blackout if the national electrical grid goes down. Until such a time that the necessary improvements can be made to the generating capacity, this is the best solution to keep everyone safe and spread the impact over a wide group of users rather than have one area get sent back to the 1700s.

Distributed Energy Resources

Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are small, grid-connected devices that locally generate and store electricity. Unlike conventional power stations that require electricity to be transmitted over long distances, DER systems are located close to the load they serve (often behind the meter) and are more modular and flexible. Increasingly operated in the context of a microgrid, DER may lower environmental impacts and improve the security of electrical supply.

As with everything, DER pose both pros and cons. From a benefit standpoint, potential cost savings to customers, a reduction in emissions when moving away from traditionally-used fossil fuels, and greater control by consumers of their own power lead the list. While the main challenge includes reductions in utility revenue, as the amount of electricity distributed by power plants lessens while the plants’ operating utilities still must invest in the infrastructure to maintain the grid.

As DER becomes a more significant percentage of the energy supply, reliable communications will be required to monitor and effectively use these resources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, unlike today’s one-directional system, the energy flow to accommodate DER will be multi-directional (i.e. utility to home, home to utility, home to home) making effective communications technologies and analytical systems critical in these applications. Some experts have suggested that AMI systems currently in development will be able to support the integration of DER into the grid, for instance through the use of ZigBee or other Home Area Network (HAN) technologies. However, we know these technologies to be limiting in certain capacities.

An alternative approach to communications for DER is to incorporate them into the Delta Smart Grid Network (DSGN). As an advanced smart grid and analytics hardware/software solution that is more inclusive and scalable than competing systems, the DSGN provides unparalleled data collection and delivery opportunities that make it possible to deliver and receive user data wherever there is electricity. The bi-directional nature of the DSGN™ enables the incorporation of DER while maximizing network capabilities and providing broadband internet access to consumers of electricity.