Halfway into the current financial year Eskom has completed only eight of the 54 outages in its reliability maintenance programme for the period. That is not even 15%.
This, the utility says, is “due to break downs and changes in outages”. The plan is constantly being revised and outages that have flexibility are rescheduled accordingly, it adds.
It further disclosed that 19 outages have been deferred, four of them beyond the end of the period on 31 March 2024, and three have been cancelled.
A total of 15 additional outages have been completed.
In the previous financial year 79 outages were scheduled, 45 of which were completed, while 17 in progress at year-end.
This information provided by Eskom comes shortly after its system operator in its latest weekly system status bulletin increased the base assumption of unplanned breakdowns to 16 000MW, rather than the previous 15 000MW.
Kusile question mark
In its 52-week outlook, which forms part of the bulletin, the system operator also no longer provides for a step-change expected when the three units at Kusile Power Station that are out of action following a flue duct collapse late last year, are expected to return to service at the end of 2023.
This despite assurances by Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa that the units will return to service in November, adding 2 400MW of generation capacity. This equals more than two stages of load shedding.
The system operator is now forecasting constant Stage 3 or higher load shedding in two of the three scenarios it provides weekly.
This is the forecast demand versus available generating capacity for each week for 52 weeks ahead.
Colour coding – ranging from Green (no shortage) to Red (worst case) – is used to indicate the absence or presence of a capacity constraint.
Eskom outlook published in week 35, 2023
Eskom outlook published in week 36, 2023
Concern about the state of Eskom’s generation fleet deepened recently when Stage 6 load shedding returned for about 10 days, although the utility has been able to return several units to service and decreased the intensity of load shedding in the past few days.
‘More variable than wind’
In addition, Isabel Fick, head of the system operator’s office at Eskom, said at an Energy Systems Research Group event at the University of Cape Town that the performance of Eskom’s coal fleet is now more variable than that of wind and solar power.
According to Fick the variability of the 40 000MW coal fleet is about 4 000MW, compared to 150MW for the more than 6 000MW of renewables connected to the grid.
Eskom has been battling to reduce the extent of generation capacity offline due to unplanned breakdowns to less than 15 000MW, although it reported on Tuesday 19 September a reduction to 13 577MW.
Professor Anton Eberhard, professor emeritus and a senior scholar at the Power Futures Lab at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, used a graph compiled by energy analyst Clyde Mallinson to illustrate on X the reality of Eskom’s breakdowns and points to the unrealistic expectations of politicians:
SA’s electricity minister has tried to move @Eskom_SA generation plant failures below 15000MW (black line). Here’s the reality (courtesy @ClydeMallinson).
The hope that power cuts will end through improved Eskom performance remains an increasingly unrealistic hope pic.twitter.com/KsWLE6EweQ
— Anton Eberhard (@AntonEberhard) September 18, 2023
Total energy availability has also been stubbornly below 60%, despite Ramokgopa saying at times it has improved to 60%.
Cabinet, in its latest statement published on 14 September, blamed the implementation of Stage 6 load shedding on the “concerted implementation of the planned fleet maintenance programme” and said it was “a regress from the trends that prevailed in the previous weeks of lower stages of load shedding”.
It continued: “Cabinet was assured that the current implementation of increased stages of load shedding is a short-term phase as Eskom prepares for more sustained and lessened stages of load shedding in the not-so-distant future.”
ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula, in a post on X, once again set the goal of ending load shedding by the end of this year.
In the meantime, former Eskom executive Matshela Koko said on X Eskom is biting off more than it can chew with its ambitious maintenance targets.
He says the amount of maintenance that Eskom can successfully execute is linked to the number of available skilled staff, equipment and spares.
“You can only do so much. When you do more, your results deteriorate,” says Koko, under whose command load shedding was temporarily halted.
“There is nothing to show for all the philosophy maintenance since 2018,” he says.
He warns that routine maintenance that must be done daily may be neglected in the face of an aggressive reliability maintenance programme, which may explain the high level of breakages at Eskom’s coal-fired power stations.