South Africans face a dark winter – with stage 6 load-shedding 

South Africans face a dark winter, with experts warning of prolonged periods at stage 6 load-shedding despite assurances from government officials that Eskom has turned a corner. 

Politicians have regularly blamed load-shedding on increased maintenance over the past few years, saying that it is “short-term pain for longer-term gain.”

Last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa famously said South Africans should see the current stage 6 load-shedding in a positive light because of this. 

“The load-shedding that we are going through now is occasioned by what Eskom is having to do to reposition the generation of our fleet,” Ramaphosa said.

“They are maintaining our fleet. They are making sure that incidents of load-shedding that have been given rise to in the past because of unplanned load-shedding events like breakdowns are put behind us.”

He added that the more intense load-shedding will not last. “This, as much as it is stage 6, is of a short-term nature,” Ramaphosa said.

In 2024, experts have warned that South Africans will face a repeat of stage 6 load-shedding in winter as the country’s electricity crisis does not have a quick fix, and Eskom’s performance has only deteriorated further. 

Energy expert Professor Hartmut Winkler said South Africans should brace for stage 6 load-shedding in winter due to Eskom having to conduct maintenance that cannot be postponed. 

Typically, Eskom conducts most maintenance in summer when demand is lower, and this maintenance takes off as the country heads into winter when it needs additional capacity. 

However, as shown in a report from German consultancy group VGBE Energy, maintenance at Eskom’s coal fleet is no longer postponable — it has to be done now and properly. 

The report also suggested that Eskom urgently conduct in-depth maintenance on its plants at the expense of elevated load-shedding in the short term, as this will improve its long-term performance. 

Power plants are designed for a specific lifetime, which can vary from the design lifetime depending on the original quality and also on operation and maintenance conditions. 

For economic and technical reasons, coal-fired power plants are expected to have a service life of about 30 to 40 years. Eskom’s 15 coal-fired power plants have an average age of 42 years. 

This means Eskom can no longer delay maintenance at these coal-fired plants, or their components will begin to fail. 

“What is not coming across clearly enough is that this will take a long time to all fix. At the same time, the current approach is the right one to take.” 

Winkler said maintenance is key to this approach, and Eskom’s units will have to be taken offline for extended periods to ensure repairs are done properly and that the units do not trip as soon as they return to service. 

Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, in particular, are in poor condition. The number of breakdowns they experience is expected to increase due to the age of the power stations.

“To adopt this approach, which they are now, to do as much maintenance as possible is exactly the right way to go about it,” Winkler said. 

“The downside is that we will have more load-shedding than we would need in the short term to conduct long-term maintenance.”

“Especially going into winter, it will mean that we will see stage 6 load-shedding several times. I am convinced of that. We have already seen earlier this year how quickly load-shedding can come back.”

Source: Eskom Medium-Term System Adequacy Outlook/Charl du Plessis

The above graphic echoes Winkler’s comments as it shows how severe load-shedding could get in winter if Eskom’s performance continues to deteriorate. 

It shows the correlation between the expected load-shedding stage and the Energy Availability Factor. 

The graphic is from Eskom’s Medium-Term System Adequacy Outlook (MTSAO) for 2024-2028 and outlines the dire situation the country is in with regard to load-shedding. 

The MTSAO tested four assumptions –

  1. Moderate electricity demand growth of 0.64% per year
  2. Low EAF (averaging current levels of 50%)
  3. High EAF (improves to an average of 66-68%)
  4. Addition of new generation capacity including REIPPP bid windows 6 and 7, Risk Mitigation Power Producer programme (RMIPPPP), IRP’s gas-to-power capacity, utility and private scale embedded generation (own solar)

As per the results of the MTSAO, none of the projected scenarios can close the existing shortfall gap between demand and supply over the next five years.

Thus, South Africans can expect to have load-shedding for at least the next five years. 

According to the electricity minister, since the reinstatement of unit 3 of the Kusile coal-fired plant, the country has begun to ‘turn the corner’ in reducing load-shedding. 

While this has provided some relief from load-shedding and will go a long way in curbing the escalation, the fleet’s Energy Availability Factor remains very low, said general manager at Energy Partners Power, Charl du Plessis. 

Eskom’s EAF has hovered around the 50% mark, which effectively means that half of Eskom’s generation fleet remains out of service.

Furthermore, the relative gains made towards improving EAF remain well below Eskom’s set target of above 60%. 

These top-level figures alone show that despite Eskom’s claims that the worst is indeed over, the numbers are simply not adding up, said Du Plessis. 


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