Energy analyst Chris Yelland said Eskom is on the right track to solve South Africa’s energy crisis, but there is still a lot of work to be done before load-shedding can come to an end.
Yelland said there has been a consistent improvement in Eskom’s poor performance from the beginning of this year.
This is supported by the improvement in Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) over the past few weeks, which allowed the power utility to suspend load-shedding for longer periods.
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.
Yelland recently published data which showed that Eskom’s EAF for week 41 in 2023 was 58.83%.
The EAF for the 2023 calendar year to week 41 was 54.71%. It was 59.18% for the same period last year.
The year-to-date figure does not tell the full story. Over the last few weeks, there has been a significant improvement in the EAF.
Yelland explained that the gap between the week-on-week EAF trend graphs from the beginning of the 2022 and 2023 calendar years has been closing.
However, the EAF has been increasing and hovering at the same levels it was in 2022. It is the first time in years such an improvement was seen.
“At the beginning of the year, we were in a much worse situation than at the same time last year.” Yelland told Newzroom Afrika.
“Over the year, the difference between the Energy Availability Factor in 2022 and the Energy Availability Factor of 2023 has gradually and consistently lessened – to the point where we are now, where the EAF last week is about the same as it was a year ago.”
“This means that from a state much worse than last year, we are now back to a similar position that we were in last year.”
However, Yelland said it is important to remember that, even if there is no more load-shedding for the rest of this year, Eskom still would have performed worse this year than last year.
“We would have had more hours of load-shedding and more energy loss to the productive economy this year than last year. So, we are not where we should be, but we are heading in the right direction.”
While Eskom has made efforts to improve its performance by focusing on maintenance, Yelland said there are many other factors behind the country’s improved electricity supply.
Notably, the private sector – residential and commercial – has substantially contributed by adding a significant amount of rooftop solar PV and battery energy storage.
In addition, the larger systems from mining and other energy-intensive sectors are coming on-stream.
Data from Eskom and Professor Anton Eberhard revealed that South African households and businesses have installed 4,400 MW of rooftop solar PV.
Eberhard posted data from Eskom, which showed that the country’s installed solar rooftop PV increased from 983 MW in March 2022 to 4,412 MW in June 2023.
This 349% increase in solar rooftop PV significantly reduced the residual load that Eskom needs to meet during the day.
“These are all private sector initiatives, but they have been facilitated by removing unnecessary red tape and regulations,” said Yelland.
This contribution from the private sector has helped to alleviate the energy crisis, but the public sector must still deliver.
While the renewable energy IPP programme and the risk mitigation IPP programme have been very slow, step-by-step, they will start delivering.
“All of these things coming together is what is solving the problem, and that’s what I like about the new Minister of Electricity,” he said.
“He is crossing the previous boundaries between the different players: Eskom, municipalities, and government.”
“The old mantra proposed by our Minister of Minerals and Energy is completely wrong – this idea that we should stick to our lane. No, we should break down the boundaries between these silos. We should work together.”
He said the appointment of a single Minister of Electricity, whose sole task and accountability is to end load-shedding, brought a new sense of accountability and urgency to the problem.
“It is a team effort, but he’s managed to bring the team together, and that’s a very notable achievement.”
However, Yelland said there is still some way to go in uniting the different roleplayers, which was seen after the recent resignation of Eskom chairman Mpho Makwana.
There was “some kind of dysfunctionality” in the relationship between the Minister of Electricity and the outgoing Eskom chairman, which played a part in the latter’s resignation.
“That dysfunctionality also exists between the chairman and the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan,” he said.