Prepare for worst load-shedding yet

South Africans should brace themselves for even worse load-shedding in 2022.

That is because Eskom’s generating fleet’s declining energy availability factor (EAF) should take further hits next year.

Energy expert Chris Yelland has told MyBroadband there were several concerning developments around the expected EAF in 2022.

EAF, a percentage-based expression of the portion of electricity generated from Eskom’s total maximum generating capacity, is an important indicator of how well Eskom’s generating fleet performs.

In recent years, Eskom’s EAF has slipped due to a growing number of unplanned breakdowns and planned outages of units that needed to be maintained.

For the first half of 2021, EAF was at 61.3% compared to 65% in 2020 and 66.9% in 2019.

Concurrently, Eskom has seen the frequency of load-shedding increase as EAF declined.

Yelland explained that one potential significant contributor to next year’s load-shedding would be Eskom taking down two units at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station for refurbishment to extend their lifespan by 20 years.

The project will see six new steam generators installed in the two 970MW units.

Koeberg normally helps to bump up Eskom’s overall EAF, with a typical EAF of 75%, well above the performance of many of the units in its coal fleet.

Eskom plans to take turns shutting Koeberg’s units down to install the generators.

This will take ten months — five for Unit 1 and another five for Unit 2.

That means the utility will not have access to 970MW of capacity, equal to almost one stage of load-shedding, for most of next year.

One of the new steam generators to be fitted at Koeberg.

South Africans should not pin their hopes on Eskom’s newest coal-fired power stations to help solve the load-shedding crisis either.

Had the long-delayed and exorbitantly expensive Medupi and Kusile been completed as planned and capable of reaching their designed performance specifications, load-shedding would have been a thing of the past, Yelland said.

Combined, these two power plants were supposed to provide more than 9,500MW of additional capacity to the grid by 2016.

But design mistakes and alleged corruption have pushed back full completion by several years and increased costs by billions.

Medupi barely reached full operation when one of its units’ generators exploded in July 2021 due to a failure of staff to follow standard operating procedures while fixing a hydrogen leak.

That has taken 700MW of potential capacity off the grid until at least 2023.

Only half of Kusile’s units are currently in commercial operation, and the other half are only expected to be completed by 2025. The next unit is only set to enter commercial operation in 2023.

Even so, Kusile won’t deliver anywhere near its original planned performance, with design defects resulting in its EAF currently sitting at around 35%.

News24 has also reported that the full commercial operation of Kusile could be delayed by several months due to a contractual dispute between the utility and Tenova Mining and Minerals SA, which is manufacturing the conveyor belts that will feed coal into Kusile Unit 5 and Unit 6.

Kusile Power Station

With Koeberg expected to be only at 50% of its capacity, no new Eskom generation coming online, an increase in unplanned breakdowns likely, and the deadline for emergency power procurement seemingly a pipe-dream, the outlook for load-shedding in 2022 is bleak.

That does not even factor in that economic activity is expected to pick up, increasing electricity demand, as the world exits the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yelland also said that the aim to bring emergency power online by the end of 2022 appears to be a pipe-dram.

The government’s Risk Mitigation IPP Procurement Programme sought to add 2,000MW of electricity to the grid to help Eskom fight load-shedding in the immediate future.

Initially, the bidders in that programme had to be able to add this capacity to Eskom’s grid by the end of 2022.

It’s now all but certain that a protracted legal battle and concerns over environmental approvals for the biggest bidder — Karpowership — has derailed those plans.

Powership feed into grid
Powership feeding electricity into a grid

Yelland told Newzroom Afrika that the only way load-shedding would be eliminated was if new capacity came online and if that capacity could perform better than the country’s old coal power plants.

“What we need now is new capacity coming on stream fast that performs like new capacity, to lift the average [energy availability]”, Yelland said.

“At the moment, this utility-scale new generation capacity is only going to come on stream in two, three, or four years’ time,” he stated.

Chris Yelland interview on Newzroom Afrika

Now read: Eskom under siege

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Prepare for worst load-shedding yet