Expect 5 more years of load shedding for South Africa – these charts show why

Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter has warned that South Africans can expect another five years of load shedding as the country faces a shortfall of 4,000MW.

He added that this shortfall could increase, if the economy grows.

De Ruyter said that this threat of disruption means that South Africa will have to accelerate the addition of new capacity to the grid, and that the shortfall could be reduced as more renewable energy options are approved.

“We all want an economy that is not constrained from growing due to a lack of available electricity generation capacity and, therefore, we believe that bringing forward new generation capacity as soon as possible will be positive for the economy and will avoid a downside risk of further shortfalls in generation capacity.”

A report published by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) this week shows a steady downward trend for the power utility, with 2020 the worst year on record for load shedding.

In summary, the country has faced:

  • Declining energy availability over the last 5 years;
  • Increased maintenance needed for ageing power stations – with breakdowns causing 21% of outages;
  • A 9% reduction in energy production since 2010; and
  • The worst year of load shedding in 2020, due to breakdowns.

“In 2020, load shedding occurred for 859 hours of the year (9.8%) with an upper limit of 1,798 GWh relative to actually achieved energy shed of 1,269 GWh,” the CSIR said.

The most intensive load shedding was seen before the Covid-19 lockdown, which accounted for 63% of all load shedding seen in 2020. Most of this was stage 2 load shedding, the research body said.

The group added that Eskom’s power output capabilities have steadily decreased over the last three years.

It said that Eskom’s fleet had an annual average Energy Availability Factor (EAF) of 65%. In 2020, compared to 66.9% in 2019 and 71.9% in 2018. The EAF is a measure of the availability of Eskom current fleet of power stations.

In 2020, the EAF comprised planned maintenance at 11.2% (PCLF), unplanned outages at 20.9% (UCLF) and other outages at 2.8% (OCLF).

The best hourly EAF of 78.8% was achieved on 10 Jun 2020 and worst of 51.7% on 31 Dec 2020, the CSIR said.

The CSIR’s data shows that between January-December 2020, 221 TWh of net electricity was produced in South Africa.

Coal dominated the energy mix at 184 TWh of the 221 TWh of total system load whilst photovoltaic, wind and concentrated solar power contributed 12.4 TWh.

However, the report shows that production has dropped by 4.3% in the 10 years between 2010-2019, and by 8.8% between 2010-2020 resulting in annual average reductions of 0.5% (2010-2019) and 0.9% (2010-2020).

Annual peak demand has also declined over the last 10 years.

While De Ruyter has committed to turning Eskom around, the power cuts are particularly frustrating amid what appear to be shifting goalposts.

In 2015, former president Jacob Zuma said that load shedding is likely to last for three more years (to 2018), after government completed a medium-term outlook model for the supply and demand of electricity in the country.

In September 2020, Deputy President David Mabuza said that the introduction of the Medupi and Kusile power plants to South Africa’s electricity grid will help ease the country’s load shedding by the end of that year.

A month later De Ruyter indicated that load shedding would only be ‘significantly reduced’ towards the end of 2021.

This week, Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said that grid stability will only be attained once planned maintenance regime is completed in September 2021. But De Ruyter says load shedding will still be around for the foreseeable future.


Read: ‘Code red’ at Eskom for the next 6 weeks: expert

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Expect 5 more years of load shedding for South Africa – these charts show why