South Africa

Big problems at Eskom

Eskom broken

Eskom is in deep trouble. Its power stations are collapsing, it has run out of diesel for its open-cycle gas turbines, and there is no coherent plan to stop load-shedding.

Energy expert Chris Yelland said in addition to the usual random breakdowns at Eskom’s power stations, units one, two, and three at Kusile will be down for five months.

A gar air heater fire at Kusile Unit five, which happened during a commissioning exercise in September, delayed its commercial operation by a year.

Unit four at Medupi, which was damaged during an explosion because of human error, is only expected to be brought back online in late 2024.

As if these own goals were not enough, Eskom has run out of diesel for its open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs).

The power utility said it had exceeded its budget for diesel for the current financial year and that it has not ordered additional diesel.

It means that Eskom OCGTs will be unavailable until at least 1 April 2023 unless there is an intervention by the government.

The government said it’s urgently seeking funds to buy diesel needed to fuel Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines

These OCGTs add 2,067MW to the grid and play a crucial role in safeguarding the country’s electricity grid.

Energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard has warned that Eskom’s decision not to refuel its OCGTs increases the risk of a system failure.

Pressure on the grid is going to increase further when unit one at Koeberg is shut down on 8 December 2022 for maintenance and refuelling.

The unit is anticipated to return to service in June 2023 and will remove 920MW of generation capacity from the national grid during this time.

It means that there is currently over 6,000MW of generation capacity offline because of human error and poor planning at Eskom.

The table below shows the potential generation capacity which will be offline in December.

Power StationUnitGeneration Capacity
MedupiUnit 1800MW
KusileUnit 1800MW
KusileUnit 2800MW
KusileUnit 3800MW
KusileUnit 5800MW
KoebergUnit 1920MW

Poor performance at Eskom

Eskom has been pushing the narrative that most of its problems are caused by years of neglect and a lack of maintenance during the Zuma years.

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter has also blamed some of his predecessors for the poor state of the power stations.

The reality is that most of the problems, including explosions and fires that caused the prolonged outages, happened under De Ruyter’s watch.

There is also no coherent plan to improve the quality of maintenance and prevent catastrophic events from happening.

When De Ruyter took the reigns at Eskom, he promised South Africans that load-shedding would be significantly reduced from September 2021.

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

When load-shedding became worse after September 2021, Eskom changed the narrative and said they needed more generation capacity to limit load-shedding.

Eskom has enough generation capacity to serve South Africa, but the company is performing so poorly that nearly half of this generation capacity is offline.

It is as if Eskom has given up on trying to fix the mess and accepted that an energy availability factor (EAF) of just above 50% is the new norm.

The list below gives a summary of events that happened under Andre de Ruyter’s watch.

  • September 2020 – A conveyor belt that feeds coal into the Medupi generation units snapped, which dumped the country into load-shedding.
  • August 2021 – A devastating explosion destroyed unit 4 at Medupi after a blunder by the power plant’s staff created a volatile mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.
  • September 2021 – A fire broke out at the Kendal power station, damaging one unit.
  • October 2021 – Eskom said Tutuka is in a shocking state, with heaps of ash covering walkways, plants, and instruments needed to operate.
  • November 2021 – A distribution-line tower providing power to the coal conveyor system at the Lethabo power station collapsed because of sabotage.
  • March 2022 – Eskom lost 920 MW of power when a Koeberg nuclear power station worker cut the wrong valve.
  • May 2022 – A cable at the Tutuka power station was severed while it was finalising preparations to return unit 5 to service.
  • May 2022 – The control air pipe supplying the turbine systems at Tutuka had been cut with a power tool, and the entire bend was removed.
  • June 2022 – A fire broke out at unit 2 of the Duvha power station, which has been offline for a general overhaul.
  • August 2022 – There are numerous delays in returning Koeberg unit 2 to service because of problems during its refuelling and maintenance work.
  • September 2022 – A conveyor belt that moves coal from the Kriel mine to the adjacent Eskom power station caught fire.
  • September 2022 – The Camden Power Station was taken offline after a senior technician ‘opened the wrong valve’ and contaminated the plant’s demineralised water supply.
  • September 2022 – A fire at a gas air heater at one of the generating units at Kusile that has not been synchronised to the grid caused significant damage.
  • October 2022 – The wrong oil was added to a unit at the Duvha power station, which caused a fire and delayed returning the unit to service.
  • October 2022 – A section of the Kusile Unit 1 flue gas duct failed on the horizontal rubber expansion joint and the compensator.

Most of these events happened because of human error and a lack of maintenance and oversight at the power stations.


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