Eskom judgement day
Eskom missed its March 2023 energy availability factor (EAF) target of 60% by a significant margin, which shows its turnaround journey is not on track.
On 22 January 2023, Eskom chair Mpho Makwana said they had embarked on a turnaround journey to improve plant performance and reduce load-shedding.
The Eskom chairman cautioned that Eskom’s coal fleet recovery would not be achieved within the short term. “It will take at least two years to improve the EAF from the current 58% to 70%,” he said.
The energy availability factor shows the percentage of time the power station was available for use when it was needed. It is a core measure of performance.
If the EAF can be improved to around 70%, load-shedding will be a thing of the past, and South Africa will have electricity security.
“The journey of the turnaround will see a stretch target EAF being driven toward 60% EAF by 31 March 2023, a mere ten weeks away, then 65% EAF by 31 March 2024 and 70% by 31 March 2025.”
It is easy to pick random targets you would like to achieve – in this case, 60%, 65%, and 70%. Any primary school kid could have done that.
However, without a detailed strategy, significant interventions, and exceptional execution, it is nothing more than a dream. A wish for a miracle.
Eskom’s latest weekly generation availability statistics showed that the EAF for 2023, to date, is 53.03%.
The energy availability factor increased in March, ranging between 53.02% and 58.50%. However, it was partly a result of lower planned maintenance.
The statistics show that Eskom is far away from its March 2023 target of 60% and is well below last year’s performance.
The chart below shows Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) for the first twelve weeks of the year.
Political dreams versus reality
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told ENCA South Africa’s energy crisis could be solved within six to twelve months.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan also gave the new Eskom board, appointed in October 2022, a mandate to increase the energy availability factor (EAF) to 75%.
However, energy experts Anton Eberhard and Chris Yelland warned that these targets are misguided and mislead the public.
Eberhard, a professor at the University of Cape Town, said it is very hard to turn the EAF around without more spare generation capacity.
“Bringing back four damaged units at Kusile, one at Medupi, and a Koeberg nuclear unit will help, but it won’t be enough,” he said.
Energy analyst Chris Yelland explained that the energy availability factor is on a declining downward trend, which has been so for the past five years.
The EAF is based on the average performance of 90 generators in Eskom’s electricity generation fleet. “You cannot maintain or fix them simultaneously,” he said.
What this means, mathematically, is that the EAF is a continuum. There cannot be a discontinuity – also known as a step change – in the EAF trend.
“To increase Eskom’s EAF, there must first be a slowdown. It then has to bottom out, stabilise, and start to rise. This process will take several years,” he said.
“It is mathematically impossible for this to happen in the 2023/2024 or 2024/2025 financial years,” Yelland said.
“Talk of a 70% or 75% energy availability factor is misleading the public, and it is not achievable by Eskom.”
Commenting on Eskom’s latest EAF numbers, Yelland said, “there can be good weeks and bad weeks, and very good weeks and very bad weeks”.
“It’s kind of random until one analyses the longer-term trends,” he said.
He provided a chart comparing Eskom’s EAF in 2021, 2022, and 2023, which shows a big decline year-on-year.