2021 started with two nights of load-shedding after unexpected breakdowns at Koeberg and a few older coal-fired power stations.
Breakdowns resulted in a loss of 12,073MW in addition to 6,672MW of generation capacity that is offline because of planned maintenance.
These outages and lower-than-expected electricity supply are nothing new for South Africa’s power utility.
Eskom’s ageing fleet of power stations and unplanned outages have caused a decline in the power producer’s energy availability factor (EAF) for years.
The lower EAF has resulted in increasing load-shedding over the past three years, which is expected to continue well into 2021.
Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said South Africans should expect load-shedding to be a reality for the better part of the year.
Eskom expects some improvements from September 2021, but even then load-shedding will not be completely eliminated.
While renewable energy from wind and solar provides some relief, the unpredictability of supply is a challenge.
“You cannot just switch on and off renewable energy as you please, as is the case with base load,” Mantshantsha said.
The only thing which will eliminate load-shedding for good is new power stations coming online.
Eskom’s two new coal-fired power stations, Medupi and Kusile should have been fully operational by now, but design problems and building delays dogged these projects for years.
Medupi and Kusile, which were originally expected to be completed by 2015, will only be completed by 2021 and 2023, respectively.
The delay in bringing these two power stations online has resulted in years of rolling blackouts and slow economic growth.
Eskom load-shedding from 2000 to 2020
Eskom was once one of the world’s leading electricity companies and supplied more than half the electricity in Africa by the end of 1990.
It was also highly efficient and promoted the fact that it was the world’s lowest-cost producers of electricity in 1994.
Over the next decade, things started to change, and by 2007 Eskom could no longer produce enough power to keep the lights on in South Africa.
The country was first introduced to load-shedding in November 2007 with rolling blackouts disrupting business, closing mining operations, and leaving households in the dark.
Former president Thabo Mbeki apologised to the nation for load-shedding and took “collective responsibility” for the failure.
The reality is that the blame should fall squarely on the government’s shoulders as it was warned that Eskom would run out of electricity.
New generation capacity is controlled by the Department of Energy, and a 1998 Energy White Paper said although there was excess supply capacity, growth in electricity demand was projected to exceed generation capacity by 2007.
Exactly as predicted, Eskom ran out of capacity by the end of 2007 and load-shedding became part of the South African lexicon.
Apart from a lull between 2009 and 2012, and then again between 2016 and 2017, the country experienced blackouts every year between 2007 and 2020.
What is of concern is that load-shedding increased both in terms of the number of days and MWh shed over the last three years.
In 2018, South Africa experienced 15 days of load-shedding during which 812,205MWh were shed.
This increased to 36 days and 494,759MWh in 2019 and to 52 days and over 1,260,000MWh in 2020.
The tables below provide an overview of the number of days of load-shedding and the amount of power shed since 2007.
|Year||Load-shedding (number of days)|
Load-shedding under different Eskom CEOs
In 2020, Eskom had the highest average MWh per day of load-shedding in history and the second-highest average days of load-shedding.
This was particularly concerning as electricity demand was much lower than usual because of the lockdown during which many industries shut down.
The increased load-shedding in 2020 was, however, not unexpected.
At Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s first system status briefing on 31 January 2020, he warned that there would be an increased risk of load-shedding because of increased maintenance.
“Eskom was catching up on maintenance during the period, particularly up to September 2021, after which we might see a significant reduction in the risk of load-shedding,” Mantshantsha said.
He added that Eskom scaled up maintenance significantly in 2020, which took capacity out of production.
“At one point during the early stages of the national lockdown, Eskom took more than 11,000MW of capacity out on planned maintenance,” he said.
Mantshantsha said this maintenance is needed to improve the performance and reliability of the power plants.
“The results of these efforts will start bearing fruit during the third quarter of 2021, when much of the reliability maintenance has been completed,” he said.
“This of course does not mean load-shedding will be eliminated. That can only be achieved through the addition of new generation capacity.”
The table below provides an overview of load-shedding under different Eskom CEOs between 2000 and 2020.
|Load-shedding under Eskom CEOs|
|CEO||Start||End||Average load-shedding days per year||Average MWh load-shedding per day|
|Andre de Ruyter||Jan-20||Dec-20||52||3445|