South Africa

Eskom disaster explained in four graphs

Andre de Ruyter

South Africa is experiencing the worst load-shedding in history, causing tremendous damage to the economy and crushing business confidence.

It should have never reached this point. Eskom CEO André de Ruyter promised South Africans that load-shedding would be significantly reduced from September 2021.

De Ruyter said they were doing extensive maintenance to improve the reliability of their power plants.

When the time of reckoning arrived, Eskom failed miserably. Load-shedding did not improve as promised. In fact, it got much worse.

The South African load-shedding tracking app, EskomsePush, revealed that South Africa had experienced 1,637 hours of national load-shedding over 68 days so far in 2022.

It was significantly higher than the 1,153 hours over 48 days in 2021 and the 844 hours over 35 days in 2020.

The last year has also seen higher load-shedding stages for longer, which is particularly damaging to businesses.

Over the last five years, there has been a clear trend of increasing load-shedding caused by breakdowns at power plants.

It raises the question of why De Ruyter could not deliver on his promise of improved maintenance and reduced load-shedding.

De Ruyter blamed poor project management, cash flow problems, and underestimating the extent of the neglect at some power stations for the continued load-shedding.

He added that a lot of the planned maintenance that was carried out did not meet their expectations in terms of what was done.

Many commentators, including former Eskom CEOs Jacob Maroga and Matshela Koko, laid the blame at the feet of De Ruyter.

They argued that De Ruyter did not have the needed experience to run Eskom, and the results prove it.

They said trying to find excuses when things go wrong at a company is not constructive and that the management team must take responsibility and fix the problems.

Maroga said trying to blame current maintenance problems on historical problems is disingenuous and misguided.

He said maintenance is audited and reported in Eskom’s annual reports. As such, it is easy to track the maintenance over the past few years.

Koko highlighted that Eskom experienced 5,00MW of electricity surpluses, below-inflation price increases, and an energy availability factor (EAF) of 78% under his leadership.

He achieved it through strict discipline at Eskom’s power stations and by holding power station managers accountable.

Koko said this discipline has disappeared at Eskom, and De Ruyter and Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer are put on a pedestal and protected from criticism for their shoddy job.

Koko said South Africa has 52,000MW of installed capacity. On Sunday, South Africa only needed 30,000MW to prevent load-shedding.

However, only 26,000MW was available, which forced Eskom to implement stage 6 load-shedding.

He said Eskom’s current management does not have a “feel for the system” to predict what will go wrong and how to prevent it.

He added that knowledgeable engineers at Eskom are disconnected from the leadership team. “The command-and-control structures at Eskom have collapsed,” Koko said.

With former Eskom CEOs blaming the current leadership team for the problems and De Ruyter blaming former executives, it is instructional to see what the numbers say.

There are a few important figures related to load-shedding, like the EAF, money spent on open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs), and unplanned maintenance (breakdowns).

The data shows that things rapidly deteriorated between 2018 and 2022, with all indicators pointing to a crisis at Eskom.

Load-shedding (lower is better)

EskomsePush revealed that South Africa’s load-shedding increased significantly over the last six years.

Energy Availability Factor (higher is better)

The Energy Availability Factor (EAF) decreased from 78% to 62% over the last five years. It shows a big increase in breakdowns at Eskom’s power plants.

Unplanned maintenance (lower is better)

Unplanned maintenance increased from 10% to over 20% over the last five years. It confirms a big increase in breakdowns at Eskom power plants.

Money spent on OCGTs (lower is better)

When Eskom faces an electricity shortage, it uses open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) which burn diesel to keep the lights on. OCGT usage increased significantly over the last six years.


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