South Africans should not be fooled by the brief respite given by Eskom over the past nine days without load-shedding as the utility has not turned the corner, with their old power stations continuing to fail faster than new capacity is being added.
This warning was issued by Professor Anton Eberhard at the Kgalema Mothlanthe Foundations’s Inclusive Growth Forum this weekend.
Eskom’s performance has significantly improved over the past weeks, with its energy availability factor (EAF) breaching the 60% barrier for the first time in a year last week.
Eskom has also defied the usual declining trend in summer, allowing the utility to suspend load-shedding for the longest period in 2023 so far.
Over the last few weeks, Eskom’s EAF has significantly improved, reaching 60.46% in week 42 of 2023.
Importantly, this indicates that Eskom is defying the usual declining trend as we head toward mid-summer due to the return of Kusile Units 1, 2 and 3 to service after being broken down for over a year.
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.
However, despite the improved performance of Eskom’s generation fleet, South Africa has been plunged into stage 2 load-shedding during the day and stage 3 load-shedding during the evening peak until further notice.
In response to Eskom’s announcement of renewed load-shedding, energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard said that Eskom’s short-lived improvement should not fool South Africans.
“As I warned at the Kgalema Kgalema Mothlanthe Foundations’s Inclusive Growth Forum, we should not be lulled by brief respites in power cuts and think Eskom has turned the corner,” Eberhard said in a social media post.
While recent gains had been made, “most commentators completely underestimate the complexity and gravity of the challenges at Eskom.”
“Their old power stations are failing at a rate faster than we are adding new capacity,” Eberhard continued.
It would be “very difficult and very expensive” to fix Eskom in any significant way.
Eskom does not have the reserve margin or space to remove units for extended periods for proper maintenance. It also does not have the cash to make the significant investments that most power stations require to improve performance.
Currently, Eskom is spending billions of rands on diesel to power its open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) to try and stave off load-shedding.
Load-shedding was reintroduced this week to give Eskom the space to replenish its emergency reserves used to fuel the OCGTs.
Bloomberg reported that the country is even utilising ships to store diesel as part of an effort to ensure supply to run generators and reduce electricity outages.
Diesel-fired turbines typically intended for peak use have been increasingly run to meet demand, while Eskom’s poorly maintained coal plants remain susceptible to frequent breakdowns.
South Africa doesn’t have enough storage capacity on-shore, prompting the use of vessels off the southern coast near Mossel Bay to store the fuel.
“As there is limited storage, PetroSA has taken a process of using floating tankers to ensure that product is readily available as and when required according to forecasts as agreed with Eskom,” the state-owned oil company said in a letter to stakeholders dated 18 October.
Four tankers were designated to deliver diesel to PetroSA “to supply key customers” and one carrying gasoline, it said.
There were six tankers offshore Mossel Bay on Friday, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.
The utility has spent more than R18.9 billion on fuel in the year through 31 March, more than double the previous period.