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Eskom’s Remarkable Recovery: South Africa May Only Face Two Weeks of Load-Shedding in 2024

Eskom’s improved power station capacity and strategic maintenance plans have significantly reduced load-shedding in South Africa. With enhanced funding and cooperation from the National Treasury, South Africans might only experience two weeks of load-shedding in 2024.

Eskom, South Africa’s primary electricity supplier, has made significant strides in recovering its power station generating capacity, leading to a dramatic reduction in load-shedding. According to a recent report by the Sunday newspaper Rapport, South Africans may only face two weeks of load-shedding in 2024. This optimistic outlook follows the country’s longest break from rotational power cuts in nearly three years.

Key Factors in Eskom’s Recovery

Chris Yelland, managing director of EE Business Intelligence, noted that Eskom’s efforts to repair and maintain its ageing fleet of power stations are showing positive results. The National Treasury’s increased financial support and cooperative stance on procuring parts and expertise from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have been pivotal in this recovery.

OEMs’ direct involvement, coupled with a rigorous planned maintenance regime, forms a core part of the Generation Recovery Plan developed by Eskom’s board. This plan was based on a detailed assessment of the utility’s power stations by German consultancy firm VGB Energy. Consequently, the unplanned capacity loss factor (UCLF) of Eskom’s fleet has decreased from approximately 30-35% in 2023 to 25% in recent months. This 5% improvement equates to roughly 2,500MW of additional power, a significant boost to the grid.

Prospects and Volatility

If these improvements persist, Eskom’s 52-week system status outlook suggests that load-shedding might be necessary only during the weeks of 23 September and 28 October 2024. However, Yelland cautions that the situation remains fluid, and sustained improvement is not guaranteed.

The volatility of Eskom’s fleet is evident in its system status outlook. For instance, in week 21 of 2024, the UCLF increased by over three percentage points to 29%, causing the energy availability factor (EAF) to drop from 64.84% to 61.35%. Fortunately, week 22 saw a reversal of this trend, with the UCLF decreasing to 26.13% and the EAF rising to 64.30%.

Extended Load-Shedding Suspension and Maintenance

As of 9 June 2024, Eskom’s load-shedding suspension had lasted about 74 days, marking the longest break since mid-2021. This improvement is attributed to the Generation Operational Recovery Plan, which included intensified planned maintenance during the summer months of 2023/24. During December 2023 and January 2024, around 8,000MW — or 18% — of Eskom’s capacity was under maintenance.

Between 1 April 2024 and 6 June 2024, the UCLF was reduced to 28.0%, down from 35.7% in the same period last year. Over the same period, the EAF increased to 61.1%, up from 53.2% the previous year. Expenditure on open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) dropped significantly, with a 77% reduction in costs compared to the same period last year.

Impact of Demand Reduction and Rooftop Solar

While Eskom’s operational improvements are notable, a significant decrease in demand has also contributed to keeping the lights on. Lower economic activity and a surge in private rooftop solar installations have played a crucial role in reducing the strain on the grid. Rooftop solar has allowed Eskom to rely less on emergency generation reserves during the day, preserving capacity for peak demand periods.

Eskom has only acknowledged the impact of decreased demand and increased rooftop solar adoption once, during its State of the System media briefing on 26 April 2024. Despite better-than-expected generation performance, Eskom maintained its forecast of load-shedding being limited to stage 2 during the winter months.

As of the latest update, unplanned outages averaged 11,300MW, which is 3,000MW less than anticipated. This significant improvement underscores the effectiveness of Eskom’s recovery plan and offers a glimmer of hope for South Africans weary of load-shedding.

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