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What is Load Shedding?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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The electricity that people use is generally produced and supplied by companies. Load shedding results when people are demanding more electricity than a company has to give. To resolve the situation, that company may have to deny certain users electricity at certain times. Load shedding is sometimes referred to as rolling blackouts. This can be a bit deceiving since blackouts are generally unplanned.

Many people take electricity for granted. This is often because people think electricity is unlimited. In many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, this is not true.

Providing electricity involves converting some type of resource into energy that can be used to produce the needed electricity. For example, coal or hydropower may be used. Companies involved in this process usually have a limited capacity, meaning they can only produce so much. There are also instances when the resources used to produce the electrical power are limited or unavailable.

Load shedding occurs when consumers demand levels of supply that exceed their providers’ capacities. When these types of threats are looming, people are often warned to conserve electricity and limit their consumption. This strategy often proves ineffective, so the providers must resort to more drastic measures.

A blackout is usually an uncontrolled power outage. If excessive demands are left unresolved, this will be the result. Blackouts, however, can be problematic. Since consumers have no indication of when a blackout will occur, they can be unduly inconvenienced. For providers, blackouts can result in damaged networks.

Load shedding is a controlled alternative response to excessive demand. To ease the burden on themselves and their consumers, providers may begin to ration electricity. Instead of allowing a blackout to occur, which could cause many people to be without power for an unknown amount of time, providers may shut down the flow themselves.

This is usually part of a plan. The providers decide how to best distribute the electricity so the burden of the shortage can be spread across their networks. Load shedding often involves schedules that determine which areas will be denied power and at what times it will happen.

Load shedding is referred to as rolling blackouts for this reason. First, the flow of electricity is cut in one area for a predetermined amount of time. Then, supplies are reconnected in that area and disconnected elsewhere. In many cases people in the affected areas, especially the businesses such as supermarkets that are dependent on power, are notified in advance.

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Discussion Comments
By anon976449 — On Nov 03, 2014

Why does load shedding occur?

By Potterspop — On Jun 25, 2011

@MissMuffet - Don't forget that politics plays a part here too. When developing countries build their economies the businesses get priority over others for the electricity which is available.

That's something which I can understand, despite the inconveniences to the general population. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a hot country with intermittent use of a fan or air conditioner!

On the other hand you read about countries where a certain section of society, such as government workers and the richest people, get more than their share of power. That's just isn't fair, however I try to rationalise it.

By MissMuffet — On Jun 24, 2011

I have lived in Vietnam and China, both of which seemed to be operating load shedding schemes.

You almost get used to it, and learn to love candlelight! We would joke that the easiest way to spot a new ex-pat was when they complained about this subject.

I can't imagine it will get better in either place until they figure a way to catch their infrastructure up with their economic growth.

By Penzance356 — On Jun 21, 2011

@Windchime - I think most places that depend on electricity to be constant do have back up power generators.

Hospitals are the obvious place, as they need lights in operating rooms and may have patients depending on electricity to help them breathe.

I expect other places have them too, as a sudden break in power could mean data loss in their computer systems.

By Windchime — On Jun 20, 2011

While I can now understand better the way electricity load shedding works, I wonder what impact this has on countries severely affected by regular power cuts.

I remember living near a materity hospital once, and if we ever had a blackout they automatically switched over to a power generator system.

Is this something most countries do, to ensure essential equipment is fully functional?

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