Zwanani Mathe | Eskom must improve energy availability as a quick win to end loadshedding (2023)

There is no doubt that the future of electricity generation in South Africa will primarily consist of renewable energy and, possibly, nuclear energy.

However, in the short to medium term, the South African electricity grid will be largely powered by coal-fired power stations.

The integrated resource plan (IRP) of 2019 captures the road map and policy direction adopted by government.

A lot has changed since 2019, hence the IRP is being reviewed. One of the assumptions made in 2019 was that the Eskom fleet energy availability factor (EAF) would be maintained above 70%, but today it is consistently below 60%.

Renewable energy costs have come down substantially, but there is a need to consider the cost of introducing large energy storage systems to support grid stability and make up for the performance of intermittent/variable renewable energy.
In addition, future updates of the IRP would have to take into account the changing characteristics of the power system, mainly due to the introduction of renewable energy and energy storage systems.

Besides modelling for the EAF and power generation in megawatts, the issues of power system grid stability and location of new plants/facilities also needs to be considered. Getting the IRP reviewed, consulted and approved will take time.

Meanwhile, urgent steps must be taken to address the load shedding and baseload crisis. Some have argued that South Africa has enough capacity to cater for the current demand (which is true, given Eskom’s installed nominal capacity); however, the low EAF evidently shows that, even with sufficient installed capacity, security of supply is threatened if plant performance is poor.
According to the latest system update report from Eskom, the South African electricity grid has about 55.4GW of installed electricity supply capacity, excluding demand side products or instruments.

This is broken down as follows:
.Dispatchable capacity (including imports and emergency generation resources) – 49.2GW;

.Solar PV (nondispatchable) – 2.3GW;

.Concentrated solar power (nondispatchable) – 0.5GW; and

.Wind (nondispatchable) – 3.4GW.

The highest peak demand last year was 31.8GW, which was recorded on June 2. For the rest of last year, the peak demand ranged between 23GW and 26GW. The electricity system in South Africa therefore has enough installed capacity to cater for demand, operating reserves and maintenance (planned and unplanned outages). Which begs the big question: What happened, from a technical point of view, that led to frequent load shedding last year?

It is common knowledge that, in operating an old fleet, maintenance is typically higher than when operating a relatively new fleet of assets. It is puzzling that Eskom got this wrong.

Furthermore, it would appear that the effectiveness of the maintenance that is being done is not great.

As a result of that inadequate plant maintenance, generation is also now incurring a daily average of about 5 000MW to 7 000MW of partial load losses.

Furthermore, also due to inadequate plant maintenance, emission performance has deteriorated. Load is sometimes curtailed to ensure that minimum emission standard limits are met or not substantially exceeded. This means that the plant must be operated under abnormal conditions or a reduced load, which sometimes requires manual operating interventions.

As a result, dust and ash handling plants experience challenges associated with hoppers that are not emptied timeously and abatement control plants that are damaged.

This mode of operation also results in fabric filter plant systems and electrostatic precipitators facing issues of fabric filter plant bags being blinded and the contamination of the electrostatic precipitator fields due to fuel oil/unburnt carbon carryover.
Approximately half of these partial load losses can be cleared online or during weekend maintenance opportunities, provided spares and contracts are in place.

Of course, other contributory factors must also be considered, such as leadership that may not be equal to the task, the exodus of technical skills, corruption, criminal activities at the power stations, coal quality issues and staff morale.

Now that the root causes of excessive load shedding have been established, what urgent measures must be taken to turn things around reasonably quickly? The following ten steps are proposed:

President Cyril Ramaphosa must immediately declare a national state of disaster for electricity supply, empowering Eskom and government to take extraordinary measures to stop load shedding. This may include the quick procurement of critical spares from around the world. The state of disaster would also enable mobilisation of support from other power utilities around the globe. A national electricity supply command council should be set up to provide oversight.
.Eskom’s executive committee must urgently approve and release a maintenance budget per power station for the next five years. This budget must be aligned with a high planned capacity loss factor (15%, but preferably much more). To accommodate this high factor, load shedding at about stage 3 may have to be implemented for up to 12 months. This would allow for units to be taken off the system for general overhaul and much-needed refurbishments.

This approach will require an agile procurement process to allow for quick procurement of critical spares and maintenance crews. What is untenable at this stage is for the country to be subjected to severe load shedding that continues without addressing (or even allowing a deterioration of) the underlying causes of capacity shortage, which amounts to simply managing from one crisis to the next;

Maintenance must be outsourced to original equipment manufacturers using risk benefit-type long-term contracts (a minimum of 10 years). This must be accompanied by proper scoping of the outages, ensuring that critical spares are available before breakers open, and that there is an acceptable quality of workmanship during outages. Original equipment manufacturers must be held accountable for outage slips and unit performance beyond those slips.
.Site-based recovery teams comprising Eskom specialists and independent specialist engineering companies must be established for plant maintenance oversight, reporting directly to the power station manager.

These site-based maintenance recovery teams must be empowered to make decisions without having to write endless memorandums and motivations to head office managers and committees. The power station manager must be the final decision-maker during this recovery.

At a minimum, the scope of work for the site-based recovery teams should entail driving maintenance (be it planned or on breakdowns), quality control and engineering assurance, ensuring correct spares are specified and procured, and ensuring outage scopes are correct;

.Site-based partial load loss recovery teams (comprising Eskom specialists and independent specialist engineering companies) must be established and must report directly to the power station manager. These site-based teams must, similarly, be empowered to make decisions without having to submit memorandums and motivations to head office managers and committees. Again, the power station manager must be the final decision-maker during this recovery;

Site-based recovery teams for environmental compliance and minimum emissions standard upgrades (comprising Eskom specialists, independent specialist engineering companies and original equipment manufacturers) must be established. These teams must report directly to the power station manager. And again, these site-based teams must be empowered to make decisions without having to submit memorandums and motivations to head office managers and committees, and the power station manager must be the final decision-maker during this recovery;
.There must be mass recruitment of technical skills (including students, artisans, technicians, engineers and highly experienced specialists). This recruitment process must be site-driven, with the final decision-maker (on the numbers and mix of required skills) being the power station manager. Headhunting and external recruitment must be part of the recruitment strategies employed on site, without needing approval from head office;

.Use must be made of local universities and universities of technology to conduct investigations. Outcomes and recommendations from these investigations must be practical and implementable. This must be done under the guidance of Eskom’s research, testing and development.

In fact, the power utility needs to function as a world-class research organisation that earns its living from implementable solutions that make a difference in the performance of its plants and infrastructure (almost similar to earning revenue from licensing solutions and patent royalties). Massive technical training must be rolled out per power station; and system engineers, technicians, plant managers, artisans and operators must be accredited;

.An incentive scheme must be reinstated for staff, irrespective of the financial position of the organisation. Without a motivated workforce, no plan will work. This intervention is crucial to get buy-in from Eskom guardians, especially organised labour. Of course, having a proper performance management system that is aligned with the strategic direction of the organisation and key performance indicators is crucial; and

Daily updates must be provided through the Eskom spokesperson on progress made to stop load shedding. Daily updates must be structured as follows:
–Immediate steps (which are basically covered in this opinion piece);

–Short-term interventions;

–Medium-term interventions; and

–Long-term interventions.

As I have demonstrated above, one of the main contributing factors to the root causes of sudden increases in load shedding has been not sustaining maintenance for the old fleet, particularly in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The steps outlined above must be implemented immediately to ensure sustained improvement in technical plant performance, which would most likely be realised towards the end of this year.

Unfortunately, the situation will deteriorate before it improves.
It is important to protect the grid stability during the next six months, or else we will have to start planning for the worst-case scenario – a complete blackout of the country.

Mathe is the CEO of the SA National Energy Development Institute

Zwanani Mathe | Eskom must improve energy availability as a quick win to end loadshedding (1)


What is the solution to stop load shedding? ›

From quirky solar jars that look great in your garden as you recharge them, to permanently installing solar outdoor security lights, there are solar lighting load shedding solutions to suit any budget. If you need more light than solar lanterns, candles and torches can provide, then you may want to think bigger.

What is the main cause of load shedding? ›

Several factors can lead to load shedding, including extreme weather, sharply increased electric demand, unplanned generation plant outages, transmission constraints, unexpected damage to equipment, unavailability of purchased power or a combination of these situations.

Why is South Africa load shedding? ›

2 Why are we experiencing load shedding? The current bout of load shedding is related to inadequate national energy supply to meet demand. This is mainly due to a large amount of unplanned maintenance required at Eskom's aging coal-fired power stations.

What are factors contributing to power cuts or load shedding in South Africa? ›

With an ageing coal fleet that is highly prone to faults, Eskom has struggled to meet demand since 2007, choking economic growth. Eskom routinely implements scheduled power cuts, called “load shedding,” to prevent a strain on the system that could cause a total blackout and to replenish emergency generation reserves.

Will load shedding ever end? ›

'Load-shedding will continue until 2027'

What problems does load shedding cause? ›

Forcing many stores to shut their doors during load shedding also leads to a drop in sales and turnover. Damaged equipment – Power surges are common, and usually, an increased flow of current leads to a short socket or damage to your electrical appliances and gear.

How do people survive load shedding in South Africa? ›

Top 10 tips to survive load shedding
  1. Know your schedule. When's our next load shedding? ...
  2. Get lit. Use LED rechargeable globes. ...
  3. Charge your laptop. Keep your laptop charged. ...
  4. Put a flask to the task. ...
  5. Buy a generator. ...
  6. Go solar. ...
  7. Come on baby light my gas braaier! ...
  8. Freeze ahead.
Nov 1, 2022

How do you fix load shedding in South Africa? ›

The foundation added that the country's load shedding crisis can be solved with a legislative change to a single word in law. Section 8(1) of the Electricity Regulation Act provides that 'no person may' generate, distribute, transmit, or trade-in electricity without a licence.

Which country has the most load shedding? ›


How load shedding has impacted on the economy and standard of living of people in South Africa? ›

Contributing to inflation that may result in farmers planting less due to rising costs; Causing disruptions in planting schedules; Increasing the cost of production; and, Increasing overall risk and causing more uncertainties.

What is the impact of load shedding on South African economy? ›

Load shedding is a major stumbling block to economic growth. Load shedding remains a noose around South Africa's growth prospects, and energy sector reforms need to quicken, says Treasury. Treasury has revised the 2022 economic growth forecast from 2.1% to 1.9%.

How loadshedding can impact one negatively from studying effectively? ›

However, load shedding means that learners cannot study sufficiently at home. "Even commuting to school is a problem. When traffic lights are not working, it causes traffic jams, and this can cause late arrival of learners at schools. It really has a negative impact on education."

Why does South Africa have power outages? ›

Creaking coal-fire power stations, underinvestment in new generating capacity, corruption in coal supply contracts and foot-dragging on policies that would enable private providers to plug the shortfall with renewable energy have all conspired to leave South Africa woefully short of its power needs.

Why are there so many power outages in South Africa? ›

The utility, whose ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations is prone to faults, said a flurry of breakdowns and delays returning other units to service had caused the escalation in outages. Eskom has struggled to meet electricity demand in Africa's most industrialised nation for more than a decade.

Why Does South Africa have a shortage of electricity? ›

The situation is reportedly a result of insufficient generating capacity (South Africa produces around 47,000 MW against an installed generation capacity of 52,000 MW), operational failures, maintenance issues and breakdowns at ageing, poorly-maintained power stations.

Why Does South Africa have a problem with electricity? ›

South Africa's power sector is navigating an almost perfect storm of a growing electricity supply deficit, exacerbated by Eskom's deteriorating generation because of increasingly unreliable coal plants, resulting in skyrocketing electricity prices. Together, these forces are crippling the economy.

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