Energy experts warn that South Africans should prepare themselves for regular blackouts and stage 6 load-shedding because of continued problems at Eskom.
In December, Eskom implemented stage 6 load-shedding – which means the power utility needed to shed approximately 6,000MW.
For South African citizens and businesses, this means either longer power cuts or more power cuts per day, depending on their municipality’s strategy.
While stage 6 load-shedding had never happened before December, energy experts are now warning that it can become a regular occurrence.
Eskom said last week that it experienced a high level of breakdowns which reached 15,921MW on 4 January.
This is much higher than the breakdown threshold of 9,500MW to avoid load-shedding. The only thing which prevented stage 6 load-shedding was low electricity demand.
With people returning to work and businesses and manufacturers starting to operate again, demand is set to increase significantly over the coming weeks.
Poor coal and a lack of maintenance
Energy advisor Ted Blom has said Eskom suffered many breakdowns caused by poor coal quality and a lack of maintenance.
He added that the situation is made worse by the fact Eskom does not have enough money to conduct proper maintenance on its power plants.
Blom said the current chaotic maintenance programme at Eskom means there will be no end to the blackouts.
Unless South Africa gets additional capacity on the grid, Blom said people should brace themselves for rolling blackouts and erratic electricity supply.
“I am predicting major blackouts from 13 January, primarily because of the high number of breakdowns,” said Blom.
Eskom’s energy availability factor
EE Business Intelligence MD Chris Yelland said Eskom’s declining energy availability factor (EAF) is cause for serious concern.
The energy availability factor shows the percentage of Eskom’s generation capacity which is available, taking into account planned maintenance and unplanned breakdowns.
Yelland said the EAF data for 2019 paints a grim picture of ageing, under-maintained, and stressed power plants.
“The EAF for the full 2019 calendar year has hit a new record low of 67%, compared to the EAF of 72% for the 2018 calendar year,” said Yelland.
He added that the EAF for Week 50 and Week 51 of 2019 also hit record all-time lows of 59.7% and 58.0% respectively.
The chart below details the week-on-week EAF data for 2019. It clearly shows how much lower the energy availability is for 2019 (purple line) than previous years.