The big lie about Eskom’s turnaround

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s claims that the country has “turned the corner” on load-shedding don’t tell the whole story. Reduced power cuts are actually due to lower demand rather than improved performance at Eskom.

In a media briefing last week, Ramokgopa said that Eskom is exceeding expectations with its performance. “We have really turned the corner, but I’m not suggesting that we have ended load shedding,” he said.

“I’m simply saying that we can see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and this is not an oncoming train, but it’s a system whose health continues to improve at levels that even exceed our projections and expectations.”

The Minister also revealed that available capacity has “consistently” exceeded peak demand over the past two weeks.

However, there are reasons that load shedding continues to be implemented.

First, at least 3,000MW of available capacity is drawn from open-cycle gas turbines (OCGT), burning expensive diesel.

“The second reason is that planned maintenance is still significantly high. We are hitting about 8,000 to 9,000MW of planned maintenance,” he said.

“Even with that scale of planned maintenance, we still have a situation where we are able to keep load shedding at the levels of the worst, Stage 3 or oscillating between no load shedding to Stage 3.”

While Ramokgopa is correct that Eskom is performing more maintenance compared to last year, this claim is disingenuous as it ignores that high levels of planned maintenance also include failures to return units on time, which should be reflected as breakdowns.

He also misconstrues the massive drop in user demand as an improvement in Eskom’s performance, which is the same or even slightly worse than last year.

This is shown in Eskom’s own Weekly Status Reports. The latest report revealed that demand is significantly below the levels seen at the start of last year.

This lower demand is partly due to South Africa’s poor economic performance and companies and households reducing their reliance on Eskom for electricity.

The latest report shows that rooftop solar, according to Eskom’s calculations, doubled in 2023 from 2,586 MW to 5,203 MW.

Total contracted demand in South Africa for the first three weeks of 2024 has declined by 7% compared to the same period last year.

Excluding power from renewables contracted through the Independent Power Producers Programme, demand has declined over 9% year-on-year.

Independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan’s analysis shows that demand is now lagging the expected baseline by 1,461 MW/hr and some 1,955 MW/hr compared to the same week in 2023.

“A comparison of the current record-low 23,439 MW/hr average demand for the first three weeks of 2024 to similar periods in previous years showed that demand was 9.0% higher in 2019; 7.2% (2020, 2021); 6.3% (2022); and 7.9% in 2023,” Jordaan told BusinessTech.

For the same three-week interval on the supply side, the 22,468 MW/hr output in 2024 was exceeded by 13.7% (2019), 11.0% (2020), 10.4% (2021), 10.9% (2022) and 0.1% in 2023.

This means energy supply was marginally higher in 2023 – right in the middle of stage 5 and 6 load shedding.

“From these numbers, one can see that Eskom is not producing more electricity to curb blackouts. It simply has dwindling demand for its product,” Jordaan said.


This article was first published by Daily Investor and is reproduced with permission.

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The big lie about Eskom’s turnaround