Eskom judgement day – and it failed miserably

Eskom missed its energy availability factor (EAF) target by a large margin, which is why South Africans continue to face load-shedding for years to come.

The energy availability factor shows the percentage of time the power station was available for use when it was needed. It is a core measure of performance.

If Eskom’s EAF can be improved to around 70%, load-shedding will be a thing of the past, and South Africa will have electricity security.

This is why the Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and former Eskom chairman Eskom chair Mpho Makwana set clear EAF targets for Eskom.

On 22 January 2023, 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 from 58% at the time to 70% to end rolling blackouts.

“The turnaround journey will see a target EAF being driven toward 60% EAF by 31 March 2023, then 65% EAF by 31 March 2024 and 70% by 31 March 2025,” he said.

Eskom missed its 31 March 2023 target, but politicians continued to say the power utility was improving and was on track to meet its EAF targets.

In July 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet said it welcomed the improvement in Eskom’s energy availability factor, “which is now closer to 70%”.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said Eskom could maintain a much lower load-shedding stage due to the improvement of the EAF.

Ramokgopa also reiterated that Eskom was much closer to achieving its target of 70% EAF and that it has been consistent on an average of 60% for the past 14 days.

The second deadline, 31 March 2024, has now arrived, and Eskom’s performance data showed that little progress has been made to achieve the EAF targets.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland revealed that Eskom achieved an EAF of 54.68% for the financial year ended 31 March 2024.

“The EAF for the last month of the 2024 financial year was 54.63%, and the EAF for the last week of March 2024 was 57.34%,” he added.

This is well below the 65% EAF target for 31 March 2024, which is why South Africans continue to suffer rolling blackouts.

The chart below, courtesy of Chris Yelland and EE Business Intelligence, shows Eskom’s energy availability factor from 2021 to 2024.

Empty promises from politicians

The missed energy availability targets should not be surprising. Yelland previously explained that the targets and promises were misguided.

Last year, 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.

This means, mathematically, 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.”

Eskom’s continued struggles and missed targets did not prevent politicians from telling South Africans that the end of load-shedding was just around the corner.

In May 2023, Ramaphosa promised that the end of load-shedding should be in sight soon, with its severity reducing in the short term.

In August, he doubled down on his promise, saying the government is doing great work to fix Eskom and the energy crisis and that load-shedding will end by 2024.

“Energy has been a great drawback to us, but we are working on it, and we are certain that by 2024, the energy crisis will be over,” Ramaphosa said.

In September 2023, Deputy President Paul Mashatile said the government wants to “put load-shedding behind us by next year”.

“So, we are going to push, but we are very careful not to push our power stations to the point of breakdown,” he said.

African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Fikile Mbalula made an even bolder promise: Load-shedding will be a thing of the past before the end of 2023.

Yelland slated these promises. “This is the type of election talk – with big promises and bold statements – that we have become used to,” he said.

“I would have hoped that the President learned from past experience not to make bold and ill-informed statements.”


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