New data shared by energy analyst Chris Yelland showed that Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) plummeted at the start of 2023, raising serious concerns about winter load-shedding.
The energy availability factor shows the percentage of Eskom’s available generation capacity. When there are no planned maintenance or unplanned breakdowns, the EAF will be 100%.
The EAF declines when there are a significant number of unplanned breakdowns, which is what Eskom is experiencing.
Eskom’s EAF is a core performance metric because it is directly linked to load-shedding. When the EAF declines, less power is available, which typically leads to load-shedding.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan gave the new Eskom board a mandate to increase the energy availability factor (EAF) to 75%.
However, despite the minister’s lofty ambitions, Eskom’s EAF continued to decline and hit a new low at the start of 2023.
In the first week of this year, less than half of its generation capacity was available. It was more than 8% lower than at the start of 2022.
The low EAF trend continued in January and February 2023, which is why the country experienced load-shedding every day this year.
The chart below shows Eskom’s energy availability factor for the first eight weeks of 2023.
Andre de Ruyter’s warning
When Western Cape Premier Alan Winde met with former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, he was told to become independent as quickly as possible as there was “big trouble ahead”.
He repeated this warning in his My Guest Tonight With Annika Larsen interview, saying that 2023 was going to be a tough year for load-shedding.
He said South Africans should expect at least stage six power cuts, and possibly worse, during winter.
Many other experts echoed De Ruyter’s views, including former Eskom executive Robbie van Heerden and Intellidex capital markets head Peter Attard Montalto.
Van Heerden said South Africa would most likely go to stage 8 load-shedding during winter and would continue for many years.
“People must realise that South Africa is in a very bad situation. Load-shedding will not go away,” Van Heerden said.
Montalto said South Africans should brace themselves for consistent stage 7 load-shedding from July.
He said the failure of all bids for wind power in the recent Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) is a reminder that the end of power cuts is still a long way off.
“There was no grid to connect these projects because spare grid capacity that Eskom showed at the time of bidding had subsequently been taken instead by private off-taker projects.”
Monique le Roux, a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said South Africa is facing another decade of rolling blackouts.
Her prediction is based on the fact that it would take ten years to execute essential infrastructure projects to upgrade Eskom’s power grid.
Politicians misleading the public on load-shedding
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said in January that South Africa’s energy crisis could be solved within six to twelve months.
However, claims of fixing the energy crisis within six to twelve months and increasing the energy availability factor to 75% are misguided.
Yelland explained that the energy availability factor is on a declining downward trend, and it has been so 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 first has to 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.”