The good times are over – how Eskom managed to suspend load shedding for so long

 ·30 Oct 2023

Power utility Eskom announced on Sunday that load shedding is back in full swing, with outages returning at stage 2 and stage 3 until further notice.

On Sunday (29 October), the group said that stage 2 load shedding would be implemented from 16h00, lasting until 16h00 on Monday.

After this, stage 2 and stage 3 load shedding would be rotated in the familial pattern (stage 3 from 16h00 to 05h00 and stage 2 from 05h00 to 16h00) indefinitely.

This ends the longest streak of no load shedding since permanent outages started at the tail end of 2022.

According to independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, last week represented the best performance in over 400 days.

“The 7-day blackout trend touched the 0%-mark on Thursday, 26 October and remained there for three days. This is the metric’s first ‘landing’ after ‘taking off’ on 6 September 2022, some 416 days prior.”

However, Jordaan noted that this milestone wasn’t necessarily a result of any significant turnaround at Eskom (even though its performance has been improving) but was only made possible by exceptionally low demand and considerable peaking effort by the Systems Operator.

“For context: (the prior week) required 118 GWh of peaking energy but (last week) had already recorded 223 GWh of peaking by Friday.

Ultimately, Eskom employed double the annual average level of Open Cycle Gas Turbine peaking last week to make the extended suspension possible.

“(Eskom) also set a new record by breaching the emergency margin of 2.2 GW for three consecutive days, starting on Tuesday,24 October,” Jordaan said.

The demand factor

Eskom’s stronger performance over the past few weeks has largely been thanks to lower demand. However, with colder weather hitting the country this week, the demand profile is changing.

Demand during the weeks of suspension have tracked far lower than the typical profile, and also lower than the same periods in 2021 and 2022.

This lower demand has been attributed to both a more conscientious consumer and a major boost from rooftop solar installations, which have doubled this year so far.

Credit is also due to Eskom, which has been improving plant performance. The group’s Energy Availability Factor has improved to over 60% for the first time in 2023 and is currently better than comparable periods in 2021 and 2022.

However, the improved EAF is no panacea, as it is still far below the minimum set by energy regulator Nersa (65%) and the group is still not producing enough power to meet ‘typical’ demand – so it continues to operate on that knife’s edge.

Read: Disaster warning for South Africa

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