Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer has appealed for urgent and coordinated public-private action to close an immediate electricity shortfall of up to 6 000 MW and to prepare the way for the replacement of 22 000 MW of coal capacity that will be shut over the coming 14 years.
Speaking during a system briefing and amid persistent bouts of power cuts, Oberholzer said the time had come to stop talking and begin acting as ‘South Africa Incorporated’ to tackle the immediate crisis and to prepare for the longer-term transition from coal.
By 2035, Eskom is scheduled to have decommissioned nine power stations with a combined capacity of 22 000 MW, nearly 10 000 MW of which is scheduled for closure by 2030.
For the bulk of the new electricity to arise from variable renewable sources, with associated capacity factors of about 30%, Oberholzer said that South Africa should be preparing to introduce at least 50 000 MW by 2035.
He stressed that this was required in addition to the 4 000 MW to 6 000 MW required to close the current shortfall in generation.
“As SA Inc, we need to understand where we find ourselves from an energy industry point of view, as well as the landscape that we are currently in, and what is coming at us,” Oberholzer said.
The transition challenge was also not unique to South Africa and was likely to result in a competition for equipment and resources, which Oberholzer argued could also present a significant manufacturing opportunity for the country.
“[But] we need to stop talking and we really now need to understand that we have a significant challenge that we are facing, and that we need to get our energy, our focus and all the activities needed to make sure that we have sufficient capacity to grow the economy of this country.”
Oberholzer also stressed South Africa could not rely, particularly in the short term, on a turnaround in the performance of the undermaintained coal fleet to offer supply relief, while providing evidence of how the maintenance backlog had been allowed to grow since the late 1990s.
Presenting benchmarks of Eskom’s performance relative to those of other utilities, using information compiled from VGB, of Germany, Oberholzer showed how Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) had been above the global average until 2012.
The utility also created “unsustainable virtual capacity” since 2002 by running its plants hard, as reflected in an energy utilisation factor that remained above that of its peers from 2002 until the present.
Planned maintenance, meanwhile, had dipped below that of its peers for much of the period, during which Eskom’s unplanned capacity loss factor (UCLF) decoupled from the VGB median, particularly since 2011.
In the year to March, Eskom’s UCLF rose to 28%, underpinned by a surge in partial load losses, and the coal fleet’s EAF fell to a dismal 55.5%.
Eskom also experienced its worst-ever year for unplanned automatic grid separation trips, which increase to 697 from 392 in the previous financial year.
“We remain committed to improving the performance of generation, [but] bringing new capacity on to the grid is critical.
“And with power stations reaching the end of their operational life, the gap will increase.”