Eskom’s load-shedding disaster — From bad to worse

2021 was South Africa’s worst year of load-shedding by far — with the rotational power cuts being implemented around 13% of the time.

That was revealed in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) annual statistics on power generation in South Africa for 2021.

The CSIR calculated that Eskom implemented 1,169 hours of load-shedding throughout the entire year, shedding roughly 2,521GWh of energy.

That compares with 859 hours of outages and 1,798GWh energy shed during 2020, which was previously the worst year of load-shedding.

In simpler terms, Eskom shed over 40% more in 2021 than in 2020.

The charts below show how much energy was shed from the grid through load-shedding between 2007 and 2021.

These figures do not include the 1,775GWh of energy shed through load reduction, where Eskom cuts power in areas prone to illegal connections that could result in the overloading of equipment.

The CSIR’s data also revealed when load-shedding was most prevalent and what stages were most regularly implemented.

October and November 2021 had the most severe scheduled power cuts, with 628GWh and 543GWh shed, respectively.

During that period, Eskom suffered several big generating unit breakdowns, reported incidents of sabotage at power stations, and accused numerous municipalities of ignoring its instruction to load-shed their fair share.

The first six months contributed most of the rest of the load-shedding, peaking with March’s 408GWh.

Only three months were free of load-shedding — July, August, and September.

The most common stage of load-shedding was stage 2, during which 73% of the total energy shed was cut, followed by stage 4, which accounted for 15% of the energy shed.

The charts below show how much load-shedding was implemented for each month of 2021.

The CSIR reported that the energy availability factor (EAF) of Eskom’s fleet continued its drop from 2017.

The EAF figure indicates the proportion of the maximum generating capacity available at a given time.

According to the CSIR, the weekly average EAF was just 61.8% during 2021, compared to 65% in 2020, and 66.9% in 2019. The figure hit a new low of 53.3% in January 2021.

The CSIR also said Eskom’s unplanned outages were increasingly trending in a “worrying direction”. Unplanned outages accounted for 24.6% of unavailable capacity during the year.

The graph below shows how the weekly average EAF dropped from 1 January 2016 to 1 January 2022.

Despite the EAF, load-shedding, and unplanned outages being at their worst levels, Eskom managed to generate more electricity than in 2020.

System demand increased by 3%, or 6.5TWh, with peak demand hitting 35.0GW compared to 31.1GW last year. Minimum system demand was also up from 14.9GW to 18.4GW.

However, demand was still 5.3TWh lower than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

All generation technologies produced more electricity than the year before, with the most notable increase being local hydro, which doubled in output.

The CSIR said that the 5.7GW-capacity renewable fleet consisting of wind and solar plants reduced peak demand slightly — by around 0.96GW.

But the renewables played an essential role in radically bringing down high-demand hours — from 699 to 206 — a reduction of 70.5%.

Now read: Goodbye load-shedding — generator vs battery backup price comparison

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Eskom’s load-shedding disaster — From bad to worse