At last – some power station improvement, says Eskom

The performance of some of its coal-fired power stations is improving and bodes well for Eskom’s target of achieving 70% availability by financial year 2025, says Eskom acting CEO Calib Cassim.

There seems to be little chance of the utility reaching the 60% target by the end of this month, however.

Eskom announced on the evening of Thursday 16 March that six of its coal-fired power stations achieved energy availability factors (EAF) of 70% over the past week, “a milestone last achieved on 8 May 2022.”

The EAF has been steadily declining over the past few years and the reality is far removed from the assumption of 75% availability that underpins South Africa’s integrated resource plan (IRP).

The IRP that forms the basis of plans for new generation capacity was last updated in 2019, despite the requirement to update it every two years.

Part of government’s energy crisis plan is to review it.

The average availability of the Eskom generation fleet in the first ten weeks of 2023 is a mere 52.36% as it continues to battle unplanned breakages. The average for 2022 was 58%.

In the week up to 12 March, 35.47% of capacity was offline due to unplanned outages. The average for 2022 was 29.86%. This is the latest data published by Eskom. It is usually updated every Wednesday.

Source: Eskom

According to Virtual Energy and Power director Clyde Mallinson, the EAF for the coal-fired fleet in the first nine weeks of this year is even lower, at 45.64%. He further warns that the available units are being run too hard.

The Eskom new board set a target of reaching 60% availability by the end of March, but former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter warned before his sudden departure in February that it won’t be achieved.

Eskom has admitted that it does not get the desired results from the maintenance work it does and units often break down again shortly after being returned to service following planned maintenance.

Cassim however points to early signs of progress.

According to the Eskom statement three of the coal-fired power stations, Camden, Duvha and Matla, “have been on a sustained upward trend as a result of a reduction of plant breakdowns and the return to service of a number of units that were on unplanned breakdowns. Lethabo, Matimba and Medupi have been experiencing continued good performance and remain among Eskom’s three best-performing stations. In addition, Lethabo was able to sustain performance after a quick recovery following a wet coal incident experienced last week, due to flooding after excessive rainfall.”

Cassim says: “While this is still early progress, it shows a positive trajectory from actions taken to recover Eskom generation plants. This is consistent with Eskom’s target to achieve 70% EAF by 2025 financial year.”

This improvement has seemingly enabled Eskom to ease load shedding from almost continuous stages four and five, which sees it shedding up to 5 000 MW at a time, to stage three during the day.

According to EskomsePush, the country has suffered 1 796 hours of load shedding up to 17 March, which translates to 75 days.