New data released by Jarrad Wright, principal engineer at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), shows that 2021 is the worst year ever for load-shedding in South Africa.
Wright’s data, gathered from the Eskom data portal and announcements by the power utility, shows that South Africa experienced 2,416GWh of load-shedding this year.
It is significantly higher than the two previously worst years — 1,798GWh in 2020 and 1,332GWh in 2019.
The high levels of load-shedding in the first half of the year were expected because of the increased levels of maintenance.
Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said last year that maintenance was needed to improve the performance and reliability of their power plants.
Eskom promised South Africans that the maintenance would start bearing fruit from September 2021 when “much of the reliability maintenance has been completed”.
It did not happen. Over the past few weeks, South Africans experienced some of the worst load-shedding the country has ever seen.
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter gave regular updates on the state of the generation plants and gave many reasons for the increase in load-shedding. These include:
- Slow public procurement decisions by the Treasury are hampering Eskom’s maintenance progress.
- Pure negligence by Eskom staff — including ignoring alarms at power stations.
- Many Eskom employees acquired bad habits during the era of state capture, which embedded poor operational practices.
- A management gap at some power stations where the managers should improve their performance.
- Eskom has suffered a depletion of skills, which caused problems at the command structure below stations managers.
- Deliberate sabotage of Eskom’s infrastructure. It includes the Lethabo power station feeder lines for the conveyer belt being cut.
- An explosion at the Medupi power station, which caused extensive damage to a 700MW generation unit. It will take two years to fix.
De Ruyter has highlighted on several occasions that South Africa faces a shortfall of 4,000MW and 6,000MW, which should come from independent power producers.
However, the government has been slow to procure additional power, which puts extra pressure on Eskom and reduces its ability to perform maintenance.
Load-shedding over the years
The chart below, courtesy of the CSIR’s Wright, provides an overview of load-shedding levels since it started in 2007.