Massive turn for load shedding in South Africa: Eskom

 ·6 May 2024

Power utility Eskom says that a massive turn in unplanned outages—plant breakdowns—is to thank for its sustained suspension of load shedding in the country.

The group said that ongoing improvements to its generation performance over the past months has allowed it to keep outages at bay for 40 consecutive days.

It has been pushing its Generation Operational Recovery plan since March 2023, when load shedding had hit crisis levels, and launched an aggressive maintenance plan on units at various plants in the latter half of the year.

“(Breakdowns) are on a downward trajectory and are better compared to the same period last
year. From 26 April 2024 to date, unplanned outages have reduced by close to 4,400MW from 15,523MW to 11,036MW.”

For the comparative period last year, breakdowns increased from 16,882MW to 18,198MW.

In its winter outlook, the utility was planning scenarios for between 14,000MW and 17,000MW in breakdowns, so a reduction to 11,000MW is a significant achievement.

Opposition parties and some energy experts had posited that Eskom’s stronger performance over the past few months was an election ploy, and that the utility was actually burning through more diesel to achieve this. However, Eskom denied that this was the case.

“There has been no increased usage in the Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs) for the period of the first week of May in relation to the last reported figures during the System Update on 26 April 2024,” it said.

The reduction in breakdowns is also having a positive impact on the energy availability factor (EAF).

“The EAF has been above 60% since 29 April 2024 and reached the 65% mark on 1 May 2024. The year-to-date (YTD) performance is currently at 58.99%, which is a notable improvement from the 53% EAF in the same period last year,” Eskom said.

The low EAF in the first quarter of 2024 was attributed to the high levels of maintenance being done. Heading into winter, Eskom has progressively lowered maintenance levels to ensure that enough power is available for the expected spike in demand.

It said that, as the reliability of the generation fleet improves, “opportunistic windows” will taken for some short-term maintenance, “given the recent excess supply in relation to demand, which will further benefit our operational recovery as we get into the winter period”.

While not explicitly mentioned by Eskom, a huge factor in its energy supply levels is due to much lower demand, driven largely by customers increasingly steering away from the utility and onto other sources, like private generation.

The utility noted in its winter outlook briefing that there is currently around 5,500MW of solar and private generation “behind the meter”, ie, not on its grid.

Evening energy demand is seen at around 25,000-26,000MW, which is around 2,000MW lower than South Africa’s typical demand profile. Energy analysts say that about 1,500MW of demand has been permanently removed from the system.

Eskom’s generation performance has also benefitted from the re-introduction of three units at Kusile power station to the grid. However, this has only been possible due to a temporary bypass mechanism that will have to eventually be replaced.

Despite this, more generation capacity is expected to return this year, with the return of Medupi Unit 4 (800MW), Koeberg Unit 2 (980MW), and the synchronisation of Kusile Unit 6 (800MW).

Winter electricity demand in South Africa is around 6,000 MW higher than during summer, so the risk of load shedding returning remains.

On top of this, energy experts have warned that intermittent load shedding will remain a reality until new capacity is added to the system to mitigate any unexpected setbacks.

Read: South Africans expect load shedding to be back after the elections

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