Eskom is going backwards

 ·19 Feb 2024

Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) plunged to 50.84% – a new low for February. This also means the utility is now on track to miss the EAF target it set for March 2024 and is actually worse off than 2023.

The EAF shows the percentage of time the power station was available for use when it was needed. It is a core measure of performance for any power utility.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland commented on the recent drop in South Africa’s Electricity Availability Factor (EAF), saying it is unsurprising given the country experienced stage 6 load-shedding.

He said the EAF for week six of 2024 continued its decline to 50.84%, which is concerning because it is the primary metric used to assess Eskom’s performance in reducing and eventually stopping load-shedding.

Yelland added that this decline is also despite the return of three 800 MW coal-fired units at the Kusile power station in November 2023.

On track to miss the targets

In January 2023, Eskom’s board indicated that it had embarked on a journey to improve plant performance and reduce load-shedding.

The board set targets of a 60% EAF by 31 March 2023, 65% EAF by 31 March 2024, and 70% by 31 March 2025.

However, Eskom is on track to miss this target by a long shot.

While Eskom’s EAF did hit 60% in 2023, this only happened very briefly in October (missing the March deadline by seven months), and it hasn’t come close since. In fact, Eskom has barely managed to keep EAF above the 50% since that point.

The latest data, compiled by Yelland, shows that Eskom’s EAF has declined for the past five years.

Judging the outlook based on Yelland’s findings, South Africa should expect more years of load-shedding unless Eskom increases the reliability of its generation fleet.

The chart below shows Eskom’s EAF since 2021. The green line on the bottom left shows the 2024 EAF year-to-date.

The winter plan

In late 2023 and into 2024, Eskom has increased its planned outages for maintenance to levels exceeding the past three years.

This maintenance came at the cost of power availability and saw load shedding return far earlier in 2024 than anticipated, and even contributed to the recent push to stage 6.

Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said the maintenance of power units is part of a “calculated risk” strategy – meaning that the power utility must periodically take units offline for repairs to ensure that they continue to operate efficiently.

However, this leaves the power grid vulnerable to shocks if other units fail or if any other issue disrupts the supply of electricity.

Despite these risks, the electricity minister briefed parliament last week during a State of the Nation debate, stating that the plan is to gradually reduce maintenance from March to May.

“From March of 2024, we will begin reducing planned maintenance from the current 6,000 MW to 5,000MW in April 2024 and to around 3,500MW in May 2024 – a threshold that will be sustained during the winter demand period,” he said.

By doing this, Eskom should be able to claw back over 2,000 MW of capacity – ostensibly covering most of the anticipated rise in demand, which has historically surpassed 30,000 MW from the norm of around 27,000 MW.

Despite this plan – and considering the decline in the EAF – the outlook remains bleak for now.

This sentiment is shared by Eskom’s latest available System Status Report, which shows that an energy shortfall of between 1,000MW and 2,000MW is expected to persist for the rest of the year (based on the estimated unplanned outage of between 16,000MW and 18,200MW).

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