Energy expert Chris Yelland warned not to be over-optimistic about Eskom’s power generation outlook and the end of load-shedding.
Many politicians, including President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President Paul Mashatile, said load-shedding would soon be a thing of the past.
Last week, Mashatile said he was confident that country-wide load-shedding would be a thing of the past by next year.
“We are working closely with Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. We want to put load-shedding behind us next year,” Mashatile said.
Last month, Ramaphosa also said the government is doing great work to fix Eskom and that the energy crisis and load-shedding would end by 2024.
“Energy has been a great drawback to us, but we are working on it, and we are certain that by 2024, the energy crisis will be over,” Ramaphosa said.
These politicians rely on information from Ramokgopa on Eskom’s progress and the state of the national grid.
The Electricity Minister is optimistic about Eskom’s generation capacity, saying, “We are getting much closer to the target of 70% EAF that we had promised”.
Part of Ramokgopa’s optimism is based on returning four units at Kusile Power Station to service.
This week, he told the media that returning the Kusile units online was critical to end load-shedding.
He said Kusile units one, two, three, and five are set to return to service by the end of November, which gives them around 3,000 MW of additional capacity.
Ramokgopa arrived at the 3,000 MW generation capacity by multiplying the four units with their peak capacity of 720 MW per unit.
This additional generation capacity will provide Eskom with an extra buffer to ramp up maintenance on the rest of its fleet.
Caution about being over-optimistic
Yelland cautioned against being over-optimistic and listening to politicians’ promises during an election cycle. “We need to be cautious and conservative in our expectations,” he said.
He highlighted that the minister said the grid is currently around 3,000 MW short, causing higher load-shedding stages.
With Kusile’s units expected to come online within the next few months, it may look like this shortfall will be covered.
However, Yelland highlighted that three of Kusile’s generation units will not run at full capacity because of emission controls and other constraints.
“They will run at a maximum of 550 MW, which is considerably lower than 710 MW,” he said.
Another concern is that they will not continuously run at the planned 710 MW, or even 550 MW, if their historical performance is anything to go by.
“We may only get a 50% energy availability factor from Kusile, which is about 350 MW per unit. The three units will, therefore, offer around 1,000 MW and reduce one stage of load-shedding.”
With this reality in mind, Yelland cautioned people to be conservative when it comes to pronouncements about load-shedding.
“If people are not conservative, we raise expectations which will not be met, which leads to criticism and a loss of credibility,” he said.
He added that it is almost impossible to predict the load-shedding expectations because of the unreliability of Eskom’s generation fleet.
“What we know is that the units are breaking down left, right, and centre and that they are being returned to service left, right, and centre,” he said.
“The situation is very fluid, and I don’t think it is wise for anybody, including the electricity minister, to make predictions.”