Eskom performs a Christmas miracle

Eskom has radically adjusted its planned maintenance schedule over Christmas and New Year’s, substantially reducing the chances of load-shedding.

In the early morning of Wednesday, 30 November 2022, MyBroadband published an article which explained that load-shedding could be implemented on Christmas for the first time since the rotational power cuts started.

That was based on Eskom’s feedback stating that South Africans should expect more intense load-shedding over the next six to 12 months, including the festive season.

We also looked at Eskom’s 52-week system status outlook as of Week 46 of 2022, the latest available at the time of publication.

That showed the utility would face a generating shortage of over 1,000MW (stage 1) during the week of 19–25 December under its “planned” risk level, which assumes 15,200MW in breakdowns.

That jumped to a shortage of over 2,001MW (stage 2) in Eskom’s “likely” risk scenario with 16,700MW of unplanned outages.

During the New Year’s week (26 December 2022—1 January 2023), Eskom had anticipated a shortage of less than 1,000MW under the same planned risk scenario, or over 2,001MW for the likely risk scenario.

In all its years of load-shedding, Eskom had never implemented power cuts over Christmas and New Year’s.

When we asked Eskom what its outlook for the festive season looked like this year, it directed us to its quarterly State of the System update on 15 November 2022, which indicated a high likelihood of load-shedding.

Compared to previous years, the dramatically increased likelihood of power cuts during this period seemed to be due to substantially higher planned maintenance than usual — between 7,000MW and 11,000MW.

We noted that Christmas load-shedding would be likely unless Eskom drastically changed its planned maintenance schedule.

Eskom’s sudden change of heart

With the recently-published Week 47 outlook, the utility has done exactly that.

Instead of the 8,956MW of generating capacity it had planned to take down for maintenance in the week of 19–25 December 2022 in the past few weeks’ system status outlooks, it now said it would only take down 6,641MW.

The difference of 2,315MW works out to about 26% less planned maintenance.

For the week of 26 December to 1 January 2023, the utility will now be subjecting only 7,537MW of capacity to planned maintenance, compared to 10,806MW in the outlook from Week 46.

That means it will take down 3,269MW less than it had planned — a reduction of 30%.

Even before Week 46’s outlook, Eskom had for weeks planned to take down around 10,000MW or more during this week.

The table below summarises Eskom’s changes in planned maintenance and the resulting improvements in available dispatchable capacity between the past few weeks’ outlooks.

Christmas and New Year’s load-shedding outlooks 
Week 43 outlook Week 44 outlook Week 45 outlook Week 46 outlook Week 47 outlook Change between Week 46 and 47
19 December 2022 — 25 December 2022 (Week 51)
Planned maintenance 8,702MW 8,512MW 8,512MW 8,956MW 6,641MW -2,315MW
Available dispatchable capacity 40,489MW 40,679MW 40,679MW 40,235MW 42,250MW +2,315MW
Available dispatchable capacity (less OR and UA) 25,289MW 25,479MW 25,479MW 25,035MW 27,350MW +2,315MW
26 December 2022 — 1 January 2023 (Week 52)
Planned maintenance 9,959MW 10,362MW 10,362MW 10,806MW 7,537MW -3,269MW
Available dispatchable capacity 39,232MW 38,829MW 38,829MW 38,385MW 41,654MW +3,269MW
Available dispatchable capacity (less OR and UA) 24,032MW 23,629MW 23,629MW 23,185MW 26,454MW +3,269MW

The amendments mean the state-owned power utility could avoid roughly two to three stages of load-shedding during those weeks, if its other outage assumptions hold.

Eskom’s new outlook now shows it expects to have adequate capacity to meet demand during the two weeks under its planned risk scenario with 15,200MW of unplanned breakdowns.

For its likely risk scenario with 16,700MW of outages, it now anticipates it might only be 1,000MW short during Christmas, while it will also have sufficient generation to meet demand for New Year’s.

On average, Eskom’s planned maintenance over December, January, February, and most of March has also been radically decreased.

MyBroadband asked Eskom why it reduced its planned load-shedding during this period, given the urgent need to attend to ageing generating units over a period with substantially less demand.

The utility did not answer our queries by the time of publication.

It also did not explain why it made the change after its outlooks had for weeks shown it would conduct much more intense planned maintenance.

The tables below compare Eskom’s 52-week load-shedding outlooks published in Week 46 and Week 47 of 2022.

Week 46 — Load-shedding very likely

(Click to enlarge)

Week 47 — Load-shedding much less likely

(Click to enlarge)

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Eskom performs a Christmas miracle