The big Eskom turnaround lie

 ·25 Jan 2024

Minister in the Presidency for Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, this week tried to put a spin on power utility Eskom’s performance at the start of the year, saying that the group was “exceeding expectations” and that the country has “turned the corner” on load shedding.

However, plant performance data from Eskom shows that this certainly isn’t the case.

According to Ramokgopa, available energy capacity has consistently exceeded peak demand, and the power utility has significantly reduced breakdowns, resulting in only low levels of load shedding.

While Eskom’s data shows that the utility has indeed managed to decrease breakdowns relative to last year, Ramokgopa’s analysis of the situation is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst.

It ignores the fact that high levels of planned maintenance also include Eskom’s failures to return units on time (which should be reflected as breakdowns) – and it misconstrues the massive (and likely permanent) drop in user demand as an improvement in Eskom’s performance, which is actually the same or even slightly worse than last year.

Independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan compared the energy situation in the first three weeks of 2024 to the same periods between 2019 and 2023, noting that, overall, South Africa’s “power balance sheet” has contracted in 2024 – meaning the minister is basing his views on some “creative accounting”.

A simple overview of the reality (based on Eskom’s own data) is that power output rates have dropped relative to the same period in 2023, and power demand rates have fallen even further – leaving a narrower supply gap.

The minister credits this narrower gap to a “turnaround” at Eskom – but the truth is that any apparent improvements in energy supply come down to one thing: much lower demand.

Energy demand is far lower than seasonal trends.
Except for a week-long surge amid a heatwave, demand has plummeted and continues to trend downwards.

Demand picked up by only 447 MW/hr in the third week of 2024 and is now lagging the 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 said.

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.

The analyst said that the simple math is that “1,859 MW/hr of demand destruction” is saving the country from the equivalent of load shedding.

Breakdowns have improved, pulling below levels seen in 2023, but still far exceed years prior and sit above the 20% limit set by energy regulator Nersa.
Planned maintenance sits far higher than historical trends – but Eskom has admitted struggles bringing this units back online timeously.

Regarding the improvement in unplanned outages or breakdowns (UCLF), Jordaan said that it appears as if the increased (and far above historical trends) planned maintenance (PCLF) is hampering any benefit gained from this.

In addition, while planned maintenance is presented as a big positive, Jordaan said that from Eskom’s load shedding announcements, “it would appear that the reason for the unusually high PCLF in 2024 is due to an inability to return units as planned“.

“Technically, these unreturned PCLFs should be accounted for as UCLF. If accounted for as such, UCLF would likely reflect as 34.1% (higher than the same time in 2023) and the ‘pure’ PCLF as 13.6% – in-line with past trends,” he said.

The biggest tell that nothing much has changed from Eskom’s supply side over the past year is looking at the overall Energy Availability Factor (EAF) which is sitting in pretty much the same position as at the start of 2023.

For the third week of 2024, EAF was at 52.3%, far from the targeted 60% for 2023, and way off from the 65% goalpost for March 2024.

EAF has barely moved from the same position year on year. Eskom and the government have set a lofty goal of 65% EAF by March 2024.

Read: Eskom’s big secret

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