Eskom says extensive maintenance of its ageing power station infrastructure over the last two years is the main reason why load-shedding has been at its worst during the tenure of its current CEO Andre De Ruyter.
This comment comes after the CSIR’s half-year update of its statistics on utility-scale power generation revealed that 2020—De Ruyter’s first full year at the helm of Eskom—was South Africa’s worst year of load-shedding to date.
The data showed that Eskom shed 1,798GWh of energy and had 859 hours of outages during 2020.
This was worse than load-shedding during any other year, with the closest being the 1,325GWh shed in 2015, when Tshediso Matona initially served as CEO and was later followed by Brian Molefe.
This is expected to be even worse in 2021, with Eskom already having load-shed 76% of the total energy it shed in just the first six months of the year.
The level of load-shedding required is directly related to the Energy Availability Factor (EAF), which worsened to 61.3% in the first half of 2021, lower than the 65% EAF in 2020 and 66.9% in 2019.
The table below shows the amount of load-shedding implemented in South Africa each year from 2007 to 2021.
The 2021 data has been annualised to better understand the concern from the CSIR researchers about the comparative yearly load-shedding levels.
|Load-shedding in South Africa|
|Year||Duration of outages (hours)||Energy Shed (GWh)||Eskom CEO|
|2014||121||203||Brian Dames/Collin Matjila|
|2015||852||1,325||Tshediso Matona/Brian Molefe|
|2016||0||0||Brian Molefe/Matshela Koko|
|2017||0||0||Johnny Dladla/Sean Maritz|
|2019||530||1,352||Phakamani Hadebe/Jabu Mabuza|
|2020||859||1,798||Andre de Ruyter|
|2021*||1,300||2,568||Andre de Ruyter|
However, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said an analysis of the long-term trend of the EAF revealed a consistent deterioration that preceded De Ruyter’s tenure.
“Reversing this trend will be a challenge, bearing in mind that the fleet is characterised by maintenance backlogs, substantially higher than normal utilisation rates, design defects and operational challenges,” Mantshantsha said.
Echoing comments made by De Ruyter in his first month at the utility, Mantshantsha stated that Eskom needed to conduct extensive maintenance of the power station infrastructure, in accordance with the recommendations of the original equipment manufacturers, which had not always been followed in the past.
“Necessarily, this means there will be an elevated risk of load-shedding while this reliability maintenance is in progress due to the reduced plant availability.”
He told MyBroadband it would be easy for Eskom to end or reduce load-shedding over the short term by suspending maintenance and increasing the Energy Utilisation Factor (EUF).
However, such short-term interventions have cost South Africa and Eskom dearly in the past and will not make for a sustainable strategy.
“The current Eskom leadership is not in support of exchanging such short-term gains for long-term pain,” Mantshantsha said.
The CSIR’s research also showed that unplanned outages were making up ever larger chunks of the total capacity that was unavailable from Eskom’s generation fleet.
It noted there was a clear shift from equal levels of planned maintenance (PCLF) and unplanned outages (UCLF) in 2017 towards the increasing distribution of UCLF from 2018, two years before De Ruyter joined Eskom.
Mantshantsha said the increasing number of unplanned outages have arrested and stabilised at a monthly average of around 12,500MW.
“This is obviously still very high, but the early signs show that the reliability maintenance is having the desired operational effects,” he stated.
In addition to the significant backlog of maintenance that De Ruyter is addressing in exchange for lower EAF, he is also the first Eskom CEO in 15 years who could reduce the utility’s debt, and substantially so.
Between 2005 and March 2020, Eskom’s debt securities and borrowings surged from R30 billion to R488 billion.
After less than 18 months at the helm of Eskom, De Ruyter reduced its debt by over R90 billion — from a peak of R496 billion to R401 billion.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said this was achieved by repaying maturing debt and changes in the exchange rate.
In subsequent comments to Bloomberg around a month later, the minister stated that Eskom’s debt had been reduced further to below R400 billion.
The ballooning debt was described as a “death spiral” by former CEO Phakamani Hadebe and is considered as one of the biggest threats to South Africa’s economy.
The graph below shows how Eskom’s debt increased in the years prior to De Ruyter’s appointment, and then dropped sharply since he took charge.