Eskom promised South Africa significant improvements to its energy availability factor (EAF) to stop load-shedding. However, instead of improving, it deteriorated.
When the Eskom board was appointed, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan gave it the mandate to increase the EAF to 75%.
EAF is a core performance metric for Eskom because it is directly linked to load-shedding. When the EAF declines, less power is available, which typically leads to load-shedding.
Eskom’s EAF has been declining for years because of poor maintenance at power stations and increased breakdowns.
On 22 January 2023, Eskom chair Mpho Makwana said they had embarked on a turnaround journey to improve plant performance and reduce load-shedding.
Makwana said they would drive their plant performance recovery plan vigorously, and an external project management company will assist in executing this recovery plan.
The Eskom chairman cautioned that Eskom’s coal fleet recovery would not be achieved within the short term. “It will take at least two years to improve the EAF from the current 58% to 70%,” he said.
“The journey of the turnaround will see a stretch target EAF being driven toward 60% EAF by 31 March 2023, a mere ten weeks away, then 65% EAF by 31 March 2024 and 70% by 31 March 2025.”
He said the key lever to the success of the recovery of the Eskom fleet is fixing the systematic issues troubling the organisation.
The problems include leadership, organisational culture and poor internal controls required to operate an organisation. “These will be embedded as part of the recovery plan,” he said.
Many critics highlighted that these 5% increments in Eskom’s EAF may sound good, but it was nothing more than a wish list.
At the time, energy analyst Chris Yelland explained that the EAF has been on a downward trend for the past five years.
The EAF is based on the average performance of 90 generators in Eskom’s electricity generation fleet. “You cannot maintain or fix them simultaneously,” he said.
What this means, mathematically, is that the EAF is a continuum. There cannot be a discontinuity – also known as a step change – in the EAF trend.
“To increase Eskom’s EAF, there must first be a slowdown. It then has to bottom out, stabilise, and start to rise. This process will take several years,” he said.
“It is mathematically impossible for this to happen in the 2023/2024 or 2024/2025 financial years,” Yelland said.
“Talk of a 70% or 75% energy availability factor is misleading the public, and it is not achievable by Eskom.”
It has been a year since the former Eskom chairman unveiled their EAF targets, and the latest data shows that Yelland was right.
The downward trend, which Yelland warned about, continued. Instead of moving towards the 60% March 2023 target and 65% in March 2024, it declined to 54.71% in 2023.
The data shows that Eskom’s EAF has yet to stabilise and continues to decline. It is, therefore, highly unlikely to meet the ambitious targets.
Professor Anton Eberhard, who heads UCT’s Power Futures Lab, highlighted that South Africa’s draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) also relies on big improvements.
“SA’s IRP 2023 is a stitch-up, with pre-determined outcomes in line with what the energy minister has been advocating,” he said.
“It includes wishful thinking around improvements in Eskom power station performance and delays in coal decommissioning.”
History has shown that there is no reason to believe that there will be a significant improvement in Eskom’s coal plant performance.
This, in turn, means that the foundation of the new Integrated Resource Plan is built on sand, which can hurt South Africa’s ability to resolve the energy crisis.
The chart below shows Eskom’s planned EAF improvement and what really happened. The gap is rapidly growing, which is why South Africa continues to experience severe load-shedding.