Recovery with risks

25th November 2022 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Recovery with risks

Besides the shock resignation of acting generation MD Rhulani Mathebula, who himself stepped in to the role when Phillip Dukashe resigned in May, there were few surprises in Eskom’s latest state of the system update.

The prognosis for loadshedding – which had already been implemented on 155 days between January 1 and November 11 – remained as dire as it did when the utility presented its summer outlook to lawmakers in October.

In that presentation, Eskom showed that there was a risk of a steep escalation in both the number of days affected by cuts as well as the intensity of those cuts every time unplanned outages exceeded 13 000 MW. Worryingly, that threshold had already been breached for more than 23% of the time since the start of September.

Likewise, it was disturbing, but unsurprising, to learn that Eskom had been operating its Ankerlig and Gourikwa diesel plants at a load factor of 17.5% and had spent more than R12-billion between April and November on the fuel, against an initial budget for the year of R6.1-billion. In addition, the private diesel plants had been operating at a load factor of 11% at a cost of nearly R6-billion year-to-date.

Decidedly more concerning were statements that Eskom had simply run out of money for diesel in a context where the risk of a supply deficit was poised to intensify, given that both Koeberg units, starting with Unit 1 in December, are scheduled for another round of extended maintenance. In effect, 920 MW of Koeberg capacity will be unavailable for just about the whole of 2023, raising loadshedding intensity by a full stage every time such cuts are implemented.

Seeing any green shoots amid this bleak picture is a challenge almost equal – but not quite – to the entirely unrealistic board demand that the generation fleet be returned to an energy availability factor of 75%, from about 58% currently. Not quite as challenging, only because Eskom appeared, for the first time, to have its head around a plan to recover more than 6 000 MW of much-needed capacity from its own fleet.

The bulk of this recovery is being targeted from the specific maintenance attention currently being given to Tutuka, Kendal, Duvha, Majuba, Medupi and Kusile. The six stations have a combined installed capacity of 19 642 MW but a combined average unavailability of 8 610 MW, positioning them as high-potential recovery targets.

Maintenance across these stations is expected to result in a recovery of 3 890 MW, while another 2 394 MW could be added over the coming two years from the completion of Kusile and the rebuilding of Medupi Unit 4, which exploded in August 2021.

While such a recovery will have to be complemented by a massive non-Eskom build effort, it could go some way to stabilising the loadshedding-prone grid. As with everything Eskom, however, delivery is not guaranteed and hinges on an all-hands-on-deck internal effort, making Mathebula’s resignation all the more disturbing.