Energy expert Chris Yelland said claims that there can be a sudden improvement in Eskom’s energy availability factor to stop load-shedding is misleading the public.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told ENCA South Africa’s energy crisis could be solved within six to twelve months.
Commenting on the load-shedding problem, Mantashe said, “it will take us six to 12 months to sort out the issue if we pay attention to it”.
“Eskom, as a state-owned entity, must do introspection to establish if it has the technical capacity to deal with the crisis. If not, can we go out and look for that capacity,” he said.
He added that Eskom power station managers are all young, qualified engineers without any experience. “That is a shortcoming that we have to deal with and confront,” he said.
Mantashe said Eskom’s primary problem is technical and that talk of green energy replacing coal-fired plants is causing harm.
“Talk of the closure of coal-fired power stations is creating an environment where people who run Eskom don’t see the urgency of ensuring that those power stations must give us energy,” he said.
Eskom energy availability factor
Comments from Mantashe that South Africa’s energy crisis can be resolved within a year come after the appointment of a new Eskom board in October 2022.
When the board was appointed, its mandate was to increase Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) to 75%.
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.
There is such a strong focus on improving Eskom’s EAF because it is directly linked to load-shedding.
If the EAF can be improved to around 70%, load-shedding will be a thing of the past, and South Africa will have electricity security.
However, claims of fixing the energy crisis within six to twelve months and increasing the energy availability factor to 75% are misguided.
Energy expert Chris 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.”
Getting additional capacity online
As expressed by Mantashe, the alternative is to acquire additional capacity to supplement Eskom’s supply.
However, under his leadership, the process of bringing more electricity generation online has failed spectacularly.
The Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMPIPP) has been a story of delays, mismanagement, corruption accusations, and, ultimately, failure.
Another problem is that even if solar and wind power plants are built quickly, the grid itself doesn’t have the capacity to bring power from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.
CSIR senior energy researcher Monique le Roux explained that good wind and solar resources are located in the Northern, Western, and Eastern Cape, where there isn’t a lot of demand.
“Those lines that carry the power from the South of the country where the good wind resource is have been completely utilised. They’re running at full capacity,” she said.
As a result, it isn’t possible to add more power generation capacity in the South to serve people in the North of South Africa.
Intellidex capital markets head Peter Attard Montalto echoed Le Roux’s comments, saying the Cape’s transmission grids will remain full until at least 2027.
Le Roux said the CSIR, based on scientific principles, expects load shedding to continue for many years to come.
“The notion that load-shedding will be gone in two years is definitely not watertight. It does not stand when you look at the energy availability factor of Eskom’s current power plants,” she said.
Le Roux says that, given the available data, another decade of load-shedding is a possible scenario for South Africa.
So, Mantashe’s claim that South Africa’s electricity crisis can be solved within six to twelve months is misleading.