Load-shedding nightmare under André de Ruyter

South Africans have endured more than 4,267 hours of load-shedding in less than three years under current Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.

That is according to statistics from popular load-shedding app EskomSePush (ESP) and historical data on load-shedding.

If all the load-shedding under De Ruyter had been implemented continuously, it would have lasted for around 178 days — close to half a year.

For reference, the combined hours of load-shedding implemented under De Ruyter’s predecessors in the preceding decade was 1,630, or about 68 days.

What makes matters even worse is that the amount of load-shedding will continue to tick upwards over the rest of the 2022/2023 summer period, by Eskom’s own calculations.

In the short term, Eskom has confirmed that the current rotational power cuts will continue until at least midnight on Friday, 28 October 2022.

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Photographer: Michele Spatari/Bloomberg

These numbers don’t even consider the severity of load-shedding implemented under De Ruyter, which has been much worse than his predecessors.

The impact of higher stages of load-shedding is indicated by the amount of energy shed during power cuts in gigawatt-hours (GWh).

De Ruyter already surpassed any previous CEO in this department in his first year at the helm, when Eskom shed 1,798GWh from the grid. In 2021, that worsened to 2,521GWh.

The previous worst period in terms of load-shedding severity was 2018–2019, with 1,544GWh shed during Phakamani Hadebe’s and Jabu Mabuza’s tenure as CEO and acting CEO.

According to Eskom’s latest data, it shed 4,905GW of energy from the grid through load-shedding between 1 January 2022 and 23 October 2022. That is almost twice the amount of energy shed in 2021.

The table below compares the hours of load-shedding and energy shed from the grid each year since Eskom first implemented the rotational power cuts.

Load-shedding in South Africa — 2007 to 2021
Year Duration of outages (hours) Energy Shed (GWh) Eskom CEO
2007 176 Jacob Maroga
2008 476 Jacob Maroga
2009 0 0 Jacob Maroga
2010 0 0 Brian Dames
2011 0 0 Brian Dames
2012 0 0 Brian Dames
2013 0 0 Brian Dames
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
2018 127 192 Phakamani Hadebe
2019 530 1,352 Phakamani Hadebe/Jabu Mabuza
2020 859 1,798 André de Ruyter
2021 1,169 2,521 André de Ruyter
2022 2,239+ 4,905+ André de Ruyter

De Ruyter has been hit with a strong dose of reality after promising to reduce load-shedding months into taking over the utility’s reigns at the start of 2020.

The CEO confidently asserted that the severity of load-shedding would be reduced from September 2021, due to a “comprehensive” maintenance plan. That improvement never materialised.

Load-shedding only worsened from the 2021 summer period and intensified further in 2022.

Eskom has faced several significant operational challenges under De Ruyter’s leadership over the past three years, including:

There is no denying that De Ruyter has tough skin, given how he has chosen to remain CEO despite all the challenges listed above.

In recent months the CEO has also taken the brunt of public criticism over Eskom’s performance.

Eskom’s debt spiral

De Ruyter achieved one significant milestone that no other Eskom CEO has — reducing Eskom’s debt.

Between the 2020 and 2021 financial years, the utility’s debt declined by R80 billion. However, that was attributed to a government bailout and a stronger rand at the time.

It remains to be seen if this trend has continued in the 2022 financial year. Eskom’s results are set to be announced by end-November 2022.

Analysts are concerned that the results could reveal a deepening financial death spiral.

Eskom spent substantially more money than it had budgeted on diesel for emergency open-cycle gas turbines to supplement grid generation during peak demand.

Eskom details progress made under De Ruyter

Eskom told MyBroadband it has embarked on several initiatives under De Ruyter’s leadership to address load-shedding.

“With regards to procuring additional generation capacity, Eskom continues to do what it legally can since the licencing exemption reforms announced by the president last year,” the utility said.

“Eskom has recently concluded agreements for four renewable investors to build renewable generation capacity from leased land (covering more than 6,000 hectares) on some of its power stations, attracting investments of at least R40 billion.”

“This is only the first phase in a long and ambitious programme of facilitating the introduction of additional generation capacity.”

The utility is also procuring capacity from electricity generators within and beyond South Africa’s borders to increase the available power supply.

“In this regard, talks are currently underway to bring in more than 1,000MW of capacity to the national grid,” Eskom stated.

The utility acknowledged its loss of skills over the last 20 years had been one of the “major” impediments to improving plant performance.

That is why it has invited skilled South Africans and former employees to return to bolster the expertise base within the organisation.

“We continue to receive skilled employees and match them to the need,” Eskom stated.

However, it said the “reality of the matter” was that rebuilding infrastructure that had been neglected and damaged for so long would never be a quick fix.

The utility also said De Ruyter and his executives’ strategic interventions were being done within the legal and regulatory constraints in which Eskom operates.

It warned, however, the interventions won’t be sufficient to close a supply deficit caused by a lack of adequate generation capacity over a long period, coupled with damaging actions such as lack of maintenance and deliberate criminal activity in which plants had been sabotaged or damaged to pursue “narrow sectoral interests”.

Now read: What load-shedding does to your home appliances and mobile devices

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Load-shedding nightmare under André de Ruyter