South Africa

Eskom CEO’s bad news about load-shedding

Andre de Ruyter

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has warned South Africans that 2023 is going to be a tough year for load-shedding.

Speaking to The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield, De Ruyter said there are serious problems that have to be addressed.

“Three units are out at Kusile, and it will take a year to bring them back. Kusile 5 needs to synchronise to the grid, which should happen in July,” he said.

“We also have a unit off at the Koeberg power station for a life extension project for most of the year.”

De Ruyter did not mention the catastrophic hydrogen explosion, which caused tremendous damage to Medupi unit 4. It is not clear when it will be restored.

“That takes you – even before you look at the unreliability of the remainder of the fleet – to around 3,700 megawatts (MW).”

De Ruyter said, “before you even started”, you are looking at three stages of load-shedding.

The Eskom CEO said these issues should be resolved by the end of 2023. “If that is the case, and it looks doable, the outlook from 2024 onwards will be better.”

It does not mean that load-shedding will be a thing of the past because substantial new capacity needs to be added to the grid to stop power cuts.

“That capacity is forthcoming. More than 9,000MW of renewable energy projects are being added to the grid as we speak, with more to come,” he said.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but the remainder of this year is going to be a challenge.”

De Ruyter’s feedback about load-shedding comes amidst promises from politicians, including energy minister Gwede Mantashe, that the energy crisis could be solved within six to twelve months.

Many energy experts warned that Mantashe’s problems are too optimistic and that it will take years to address the deep-rooted problems at Eskom.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland

Energy analyst Chris Yelland explained that the energy availability factor (EAF) has declined 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 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.”

Monique le Roux, a senior energy researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), substantiated Yelland’s view.

She said, given available data, another decade of load-shedding is a possible scenario for South Africa.

Le Roux’s estimate is based on the fact that it would take ten years to execute essential infrastructure projects to upgrade Eskom’s power grid.

Although solar and wind power plants could be built quickly, the grid doesn’t have the capacity to bring power from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.

“Unfortunately, those good wind and solar resources are located in provinces — for instance, the Northern, Western, and Eastern Cape — where there isn’t a lot of demand,” she said.

“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.”

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe

Another challenge is that Mantashe is resistant to rapidly bringing green energy onto the Eskom grid.

The minister 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.

Considering all these factors, De Ruyter’s estimates can be regarded as optimistic, and South Africans should prepare for many more years of load-shedding.


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