Eskom’s Improved Performance Highlights André de Ruyter’s Failures

Eskom’s recent data showcases significant improvements in load-shedding suspension and energy availability, contrasting sharply with the underperformance during André de Ruyter’s tenure. This progress sparks debate on the effectiveness of Eskom’s new strategies versus De Ruyter’s leadership.

Eskom, South Africa’s primary electricity supplier, has announced a remarkable achievement: a 72-day suspension of load-shedding. This milestone, unseen since early 2022, marks a turning point in the power utility’s performance. The recent success can be attributed to the Generation Operational Recovery Plan initiated in March 2023, which has notably enhanced the reliability and availability of Eskom’s generation fleet.

Between April 1, 2024, and May 30, 2024, Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) rose to 61.0%, an impressive 8.3% increase from the previous year. This improvement is largely due to a reduction in unplanned outages, averaging 12,500 MW in May 2024. Additionally, Eskom has significantly reduced its reliance on costly open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs), spending R1.52 billion on OCGTs in the two-month period — about 79% less than the same period in the previous year.

Experts, including BDO partner and renewable energy expert Nato Oosthuizen, see these changes as signs that load-shedding might end sooner than anticipated. Oosthuizen highlighted the role of increased private sector capacity and Eskom’s advancements in driving these positive outcomes.

Despite these achievements, former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has come under scrutiny. During his tenure, Eskom faced severe load-shedding, and his strategies failed to yield expected improvements. De Ruyter attributed the recent success to measures he initiated, claiming the improved performance was due to extensive planning and maintenance that began during his time. However, Eskom Chairman Mteto Nyati strongly refuted these claims, stating that the significant changes came from a new plan approved after De Ruyter’s departure.

Nyati emphasized the new approach to maintenance, which involved collaboration with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for deeper expertise. This strategy resulted in more reliable generation units returning to service. He dismissed De Ruyter’s notion that Eskom was unfixable, asserting that with the right plan and execution, significant improvements are achievable.

During De Ruyter’s leadership, Eskom’s EAF consistently declined, with no year showing improvement. This period saw the worst years for load-shedding on record, contradicting De Ruyter’s assurances that his plans would significantly reduce load-shedding. Conversely, after his departure, Eskom saw its first EAF improvement in five years under Calib Cassim’s interim leadership.

This stark contrast in performance metrics underscores the importance of effective maintenance strategies and leadership in managing complex utilities like Eskom. The recent successes suggest that Eskom is indeed on a path to recovery, dispelling the notion of its inevitable decline.

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