Load shedding warning as Eskom looks for a happy new year

 ·28 Dec 2023

The latest performance data from power utility Eskoms shows that the group is maintaining its low levels of breakdowns and keeping the lights on, but increased use of its open-cycle gas turbines means that South Africans could be in for trouble in early 2024.

According to the latest data compiled by independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, Eskom has managed to keep unplanned losses at its stations flat at record lows for this year, and lower than losses seen at the same time in 2022 and 2021.

Meanwhile, user demand has continued to tank, giving the utility the room it needs to keep planned maintenance at far higher levels than the seasonal trend.

This means that Eskom should have no problems keeping load shedding suspended, at least for now, while the holiday season is in full swing.

For the first time in 2023, South Africa has not added any blackout time to the tally – it remains at 72.6 days, or 1,742 blackout hours (actual time spent with no electricity).

“With low demand slated to continue in the coming (final) week, the meter is expected to move largely sideways for the remainder of 2023,” Jordaan said.

However, while ultra-low holiday demand has bought some respite from blackouts, Eskom’s data shows that it needed to make extensive use of OCGTs last week, Jordaan noted.

“This was due to a sudden drop of around 10% in the output from its coal generators on Thursday morning. Normal demand on the day would have required load shedding of around stage 3.

“Objectively, the start to 2024 should be easier than the previous year, but South Africans should make the most of the current blackout break as the fragility of Eskom’s generating fleet is evident, even during periods of ultra-low demand,” he warned.

The analyst noted that, compared to 2022, December 2023 has required significantly less OCGT peaking support. However, the last two weeks have seen steady increases in the use of these diesel-fuelled generators

“The low-demand backdrop has kept load shedding at bay. But the recently improved breakdown levels may be turning the other way; with possible consequences early in the new year.”


The fragility of Eskom’s grid remains apparent in the stubbornly low energy availability factor (EAF) which continues to struggle to get past the 56% mark.

Eskom was targeting a 60% level earlier in 2023, but only managed to breach this level for a full week on average in October.

The group – as well as the minister of electricity – have put forward a target of 65% EAF for March 2024, which now seems extremely unlikely unless the utility can perform a miraculously wild swing over the next three months.

Energy experts have already posited that this is an impossible task, given that the EAF needs several years to show a consistent upward trend to those levels.

Eskom is targeting 70% EAF by March 2025 – a level where load shedding would be a thing of the past.

Economists have noted that this target is likely to be irrelevant at that point, as the private sector and alternative generation would have already been established to break the country’s dependence on Eskom for power.

Read: Load shedding will be irrelevant by 2025: economist

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