Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said Eskom had dropped the ball in allowing its performance to be volatile and undo the hard work of the past three months.
Briefing the media on the implementation of the Energy Action Plan, Ramokgopa said the sharp decline in Eskom’s performance last week was “totally unacceptable”.
“We have done exceptionally well over the period of the last three months, and I think the ball was dropped here,” the Minister said.
“We have been able to have some degree of credibility in October, ensuring we are able to sustain available capacity for a period of about 11 days. That is significant psychologically over that period. We were able to ensure we are not experiencing load-shedding in the country.”
Eskom needs to perform consistently well to build confidence in its ability and restore its credibility and trust in the institution from South Africans.
“You can’t have these oscillations when you have a Unplanned Capacity Loss Factor of 13,000 MW that goes down to 12,000 MW, and suddenly you go up to 17,000 MW,” Ramokgopa said.
The loss of 17,000 MW last week was above the 14,500 MW power outages that Eskom had set as a benchmark for the summer.
Energy expert Professor Mark Swilling told Newzroom Afrika that the Electricity Minister was effectively rapping Eskom’s management on the knuckles, demanding it perform consistently.
However, “what he needs to accept is that the state of the fleet is such that nobody can really predict what is going to happen tomorrow”, Swilling said.
That is the main problem with Eskom’s fleet – the high levels of uncertainty with its performance.
The root causes of this unreliability make it nearly impossible to address within three months or even a year.
“There were decisions that were not made, going a long way back, which have accumulated to where we are now,” Swilling said.
Foremost was the release of an Electricity White Paper on the Energy Policy of South Africa, which was released in 1998 and warned that Eskom’s generation capacity would be fully utilised by 2007.
Eskom made a request to the government for additional budget allocations to expand their generation capacity. However, it was rejected by the Mbeki administration.
As the White Paper predicted, Eskom could not meet electricity demand in late 2007, which resulted in the first national power outage in South Africa’s history.
In 2008, the government responded to the supply-demand imbalance by implementing load-shedding, which artificially lowered electricity demand by rotating power outages across the country.
The government refused to allow private sector participation in electricity generation and instead commissioned Eskom to build two new coal-fired power plants – Medupi and Kusile.
The design of these two power plants was rushed, resulting in numerous design flaws and, when coupled with rampant corruption, resulted in lengthy construction delays.
These two power plants are still not fully operational 15 years later, with an estimated cost of R464 billion. Eskom produces less electricity post-Medupi and Kusile than it did before.
Due to their design flaws, these plants are highly inefficient, and their units are constantly breaking down.
One of the solutions promulgated by the government was the Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme, which aimed to facilitate private power generation to reduce the pressure on Eskom’s ageing coal-powered fleet.
However, multiple Eskom CEOs prevented this programme from being implemented. Begrudgingly, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe revived it nearly a decade after its inception.
This programme has been implemented slowly and at a scale that is too small to address South Africa’s electricity generation shortfall properly.