The Eskom spiral we can’t ignore

 ·22 Apr 2024

Whether power utility Eskom and the minister of electricity want to acknowledge it or not, South Africa is seeing a power demand spiral that is not yet being factored into forecasts, which will have an impact on future energy planning.

A new detailed analysis on Eskom’s demand patterns by independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan shows that current power demand trends in 2024 so far are moving in the opposite direction to the 2024 forecast presented by the utility.

In various press briefings and media statements over the last few weeks, Eskom and the electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa have been celebrating the more positive turn for power generation in the country, attributing the suspension of load shedding for almost four weeks to improved generation and successful maintenance works.

While Eskom’s data shows that power generation has improved slightly, and breakdowns have been decreased, there hasn’t really been any acknowledgement of the biggest contributor to more power being available – the fact that energy demand has dropped significantly.

According to Jordaan, plotting power demand forecasts for the last four years on a spider graph shows that demand generally follows a 26 GW/hr ring.

It contracts slightly for the Easter period and then expands from May to mid-August to reflect the winter surge. A year-end “V” is a hallmark of the overall demand pattern, where it sinks significantly for the holiday period.

During 2023, demand started off slightly buoyant but gradually contracted; sporting occasional peaks caused by severe weather events. Overall, 2023 followed a closing spiral pattern due to waning demand.

The 2024 demand pattern seems to be a continuation of the previous year, with an exaggerated contraction, which was boosted by the recent “solar boom”.

“However, Eskom’s demand forecast for 2024 shows that the utility expects depressed demand to continue for the whole of the second quarter, yet it anticipates strong demand growth for the latter half of 2024,” Jordaan said.

“The forecast thus predicts an expanding spiral pattern, which goes counter to the contracting trend witnessed since the liberalisation of power generation, circa the second quarter of 2023.”

Jordaan said that it is unclear if Eskom’s 2024 forecast is modelled on an expected economic upswing or whether the forecasters are yet to adjust their demand model to reflect a, seemingly now established, waning-demand-trend.

“From 2012 to 2021, Eskom’s annual local power demand contracted by 18.4% from 212 TWh to 172 TWh, due to stagnant economic growth and unaffordable tariff increases. This trend was set to be reversed with the post-Pandemic economic recovery.

“However, a decade of slow, yet steady, erosion of Eskom’s generating capacity has made such reversal unlikely,” Jordaan said.

“The liberalisation of electricity generation has now baked in a downward demand spiral.”

The analyst said that it appears that the forecasting models developed during the growth-era of Eskom’s existence are still being used to predict power demand – adding that these models may need to be revised if they are to aid the utility’s longer-term planning.

Read: Why Eskom is missing its targets

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