Eskom’s 2023 load-shedding disaster

An analysis by The Outlier showed that Eskom had shed more than 6,800 hours of electricity by early December 2023, significantly more than before.

The Outlier is an award-winning data journalism and visualisation publication focusing on climate, local governance, and sport.

Its latest load-shedding analysis revealed that Eskom’s 2023 load-shedding is almost double the amount in 2022.

It added that stage 2 was the most common stage of load-shedding for eight years. However, there was a shift in 2023.

South Africa saw 1,940 hours of stage 4 load-shedding this year, which was the most common stage. Stages 3 and 6 were also prevalent.

“The country only had 1,326 hours with no load-shedding. This was a drop from 4,980 in 2022,” The Outlier said.

South Africa had more hours of stage 6 load-shedding in 2023 than in any previous year. It first had stage 6 in 2019.

The main reason is unplanned outages. Eskom struggled with breakdowns, costing it a third of its generation in 2023.

To put it into perspective, nine years ago, breakdowns affected just over a tenth of Eskom’s generation.

The chart below, courtesy of The Outlier, shows the increase in load-shedding hours over the last ten years.

Eskom’s declining energy availability factor

Eskom’s declining energy availability factor (EAF), caused by its unreliable power plats and unplanned outages, is the main cause of load-shedding.

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.

When the EAF declines, a power utility has less generation power to serve South Africa’s electricity needs.

In Eskom’s case, its average EAF declined from 70% in 2019 to around 55% in 2023 year-to-date. It is so low that there is insufficient generation power to meet demand.

The result is load-shedding, where the demand is artificially reduced by switching off energy distribution to certain areas.

To end load-shedding, Eskom needs to improve its EAF significantly or add more generation capacity to the grid.

In January, Eskom chair Mpho Makwana said they had embarked on a turnaround journey to improve plant performance and reduce load-shedding.

He said it would take at least two years to improve the EAF to 70%. He set targets of 60% EAF by 31 March 2023, 65% EAF by 31 March 2024, and 70% by 31 March 2025.

The latest data shared by energy analyst Chris Yelland showed that South Africa is far from reaching its targets.

It missed its March 2023 target of 60% by a country mile and is ten percentage points away from reaching its March 2024 target.

“With only four weeks to go, the Eskom EAF for the calendar year-to-date stands at 54.79% compared to 58.75% for the same period in 2022,” Yelland said.

The chart below, courtesy of Yelland and EE Business Intelligence, shows the annual decline in Eskom’s EAF over the last three years – 2021, 2022, and 2023.


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