Eskom blows South Africa away

Eskom has bucked a trend that many critics thought would be impossible just several months ago.

In the wake of the worst load-shedding yet in 2023, many energy experts believed that Eskom’s ageing coal-powered-generating fleet was doomed and would only perform worse every year.

In January 2024, EE Business Intelligence head and reputed energy expert Chris Yelland anticipated a less gloomy outlook for load-shedding in the year than in 2023.

Yelland said that the return to operation of three units at Kusile had already contributed significant additional capacity to the grid.

He believed if Eskom could stabilise the energy availability factor (EAF) between 50% and 60%, it would have done a good job and load-shedding would be similar or slightly better than in 2023.

Hohm Energy spokesperson Matthew Cruise anticipated load-shedding to be roughly the same as in 2023.

He only expected the country to have 20 to 50 days without load-shedding in 2024, based on the EAF remaining below 60%.

What neither Yelland nor Hohm anticipated, however, is Eskom signficantly improving its EAF.

By week 23 of 2024, the average weekly EAF had reached 56.37%, compared with 53.60% at the same point last year.

The EAF has remained over 60% for the past six weeks, all of which have gone by without any load-shedding.

The result of these improvements — the eight-longest break in load-shedding since the power cuts were first implemented regularly and the longest reprieve since 2020.

The graph below from Gareth Dwyer shows the top 10 longest breaks in load-shedding since the power cuts first began.

According to data tracked by EskomSePush, there have been 1,639 hours of load-shedding in 2024, equal to roughly 68 days.

While there is still a long way to go before the end of the year, Eskom would have to really sink to new lows for load-shedding to be worse than in 2023.

Even if consistent load-shedding were implemented from Tuesday, 18 June 2024, only another 196 days of load-shedding would be possible in the year.

That would put up a grand total of 264 days of load-shedding, less than the 288 days of power cuts in 2023.

As it stands, Eskom can still afford 89 days of load-shedding in 2023 to match the amount of power cuts in 2022.

The actual gigawatt-hours of power cuts could still exceed those of previous years if Eskom implemented more severe load-shedding during the rest of the year.

The graph below from EskomSePush compares the number of hours of load-shedding implemented from 2020 to 2024 and includes a breakdown of the most common stages of load-shedding during each year.

Load-shedding hours and days from 2020 to 2024 YTD

Eskom’s latest system status outlook shows that the generation situation remains fluid, but the planned risk scenario only expects up to stage 1 or stage 2 load-shedding for most of the rest of 2024.

In addition, Eskom is expected to return a further 2,540MW of capacity to the grid by the fourth quarter of the year, further improving the EAF and outlook for load-shedding.

This includes the following becoming fully operational or returning to service.

  • 800MW Kusile Unit 5 ramping up to full commercial operation by the end of June 2024 after being synced to the grid at the end of December 2023
  • 800MW Medupi Unit 4 returning to service by August 2024 following repairs after a catastrophic hydrogen explosion in August 2021
  • 940MW Koeberg Unit 2 returning to service by 30 September 2024 after the replacement of its steam generators and long-term refuelling

Taking the above into account, Eskom seems to be on course to drastically improve 2024’s full-year EAF over the 54.69% recorded in 2023.

Eskom has attributed the improvements in its EAF and unplanned outage performance on its Generation Recovery Plan, developed by the Eskom board using inputs from staff on the ground and a comprehensive report on the state of Eskom’s power stations from German firm VGB Energy.

It took some time for the plan to bear fruit — as implementation only began in April 2023.

While Eskom’s improvements are no doubt worthy of commendation, the utility can also thank solar power users for their contribution to the relief.

The rapid adoption of additional rooftop solar power capacity has taken the strain off Eskom’s power stations during the day and allowed the utility to top up its emergency generation reserves.

Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies senior economist Gaylor Monthmasson-Clair recently shared a graph showing how overall demand for electricity has plummeted in South Africa and how private generation has reduced Eskom’s share of the generation market.

The unit of measure on the y-axis is monthly terawatt-hours

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Eskom blows South Africa away