Eskom CEO Jan Oberholzer says the root cause of the current crisis in the generating utility unit is a lack of both system capacity and funding.

Speaking Wednesday at a briefing on the state of the system and forecasts, he noted that the seeds of this emergency were sown in the first decade of this millennium, and the results have been visible since 2012.

Using the German Energy Association’s VGB Energy benchmarks, which show comparable coal fleet performance around the world, Oberholzer explained how this has led to recent exceptionally poor coal fleet performance.


First, there is the well-known delay with the commissioning of new facilities

The 1998 White Paper stated that an investment decision to build new power plants was needed no later than 1999. Eventually, the decision was made in 2007, and this delay was exacerbated by delays with the commissioning of both Medupi and Kusile.

Completion of the first two Medupi units was expected in 2012. Six plant units eventually went into commercial operation in July 2021 (the following month unit 4 exploded as a result of an accident).

It was originally thought that it would take Kusil six years to complete; later the completion date was postponed to 2021. Eskom now expects full commercial operation no later than May 2024 (although, unofficially, it appears that all three other units are expected to be launched next year).

Oberholzer says the availability of the Eskom plant, or energy availability ratio (EAF), was in line with or better than its counterparts before 2012 (you’ll soon see why).

Source: Eskom

It is important to note that the trend of reducing the EAF or the percentage of available capacity in the world over the past two decades has decreased.

It fell by an average of 90% to 80%. In the case of Eskom, it fell to 60% (its coal fleet reached an EAF of 55.5% in fiscal year 2022 by 31 March).

Over the past two decades, Eskom has carried out less scheduled maintenance than its counterparts, despite an aging fleet of power plants.

World counterparts now ensure that an average of 10% of their fleet is offline for scheduled maintenance. In recent years, Eskom seems to have finally caught up.

The level for the calendar year 2021 was 10.81%. So far this year it has been 12%, although this will decline due to the winter months when service is reduced almost completely.

Source: Eskom

Oberholzer claims that there has not been enough generating capacity since 2002, and in response Eskom has created “virtual power” by running its coal-fired units harder than its counterparts. This has been the case for the last 20 years.

The diagram below shows the energy utilization factor (EUF), which measures “how intensively a unit is running”.

Source: Eskom

The utility says that “since 2003, Eskom medium stations have operated with the same or higher EUF than the better VGB quartile, and since 2012 with the lowest Eskom quartile. [worst performing] stations operated with higher EUF than the best VGB quartile [best performing]“.

Systems “work at their borders”

It states that “high load means that installation systems must operate at their limits, which leads to load, increased wear, reduced installation reliability and the need for increased maintenance.”

Thus, even greater use resulted in less time for maintenance, although more maintenance was required simply because of such hard work of the factories.

The result is plant breakage.

Eskom says that the rate of unplanned energy losses at its plants (the amount of power lost due to breakdowns) was “consistent or better than analogues before 2011”, after which the impact of artificially high energy availability and decisions to start the installation were too harsh . during the previous decade began to take their gifts.

This emphasizes that there are “many influencing factors” but that “the root cause is constantly running with a high level of utilization over the years”.

Over the past week, breakdowns have ranged from ± 15,000 MW to ± 18,000 MW.

Source: Eskom

Eskom argues that this cycle can only be broken if there are sufficient funds and space in which to perform maintenance. Both remain a problem.

Eskom is currently counting on annual aid payments from the government to service its huge pile of debt (technically, interest on that).

And the utility desperately needs between 4,000 MW and 6,000 MW of supplies to be added to the “foreign market” grid so that it has the margin to return its coal fleet to some stability.

This shocked the government about the relevance of this back in December 2019.

The idea that its EAF will someday return to 75% – which includes the latest comprehensive plan of government resources (2019) – is fantastic.

But an EAF of 70% or even 65% will make a big difference in the next few years, even if many of Eskom’s old coal-fired power plants are decommissioned by 2030.

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