Since the middle of 2020, after the hard Covid-19 lockdown, Eskom started implementing intensive reliability maintenance at much of its ageing plants. The programme, aimed at improving operational performance, security and the reliability of electricity supply, has seen up to 15% of Eskom’s overall generation capacity put on extended outages. Improving the security of supply, by conducting maintenance and repairs in accordance with the original equipment manufacturer’s guidance, is the most critical component in restoring Eskom to self-sustainability, and to help kick-start economic activity.
The benefits are already evident. For the 45 days between late September and December 11, 2020, Eskom was able to meet electricity demand without burning diesel or load-shedding.
As a reminder, in the financial year (FY) ended March 2020 Eskom had the worst load-shedding in its history, at 46 days. For FY2021 (as of January 5, 2021), loadshedding is somewhat lower on a run-rate basis, with 23 days of load-shedding so far.
Reliability maintenance will see a step change in the risk of load-shedding by April 2021, as the first units to have been maintained will return to service. By September of 2021, the risk of load-shedding will have been substantially reduced, but not entirely eliminated.
The risk of load-shedding will remain, as there are limits to what we can be achieved with maintenance. The average age of our generation plant is 39 years, close to the end of design life, and our plants have, in general, had a tough life, run harder and with less maintenance than best practice indicates. Bringing on new units at Medupi and Kusile will abate the risk even further, particularly now that we have successfully identified the modifications required to fix the design defects that have bedevilled our new build plants.
Even so, we need more generation capacity, sooner rather than later. Without reliable electricity supply, you cannot attract investment, and without investment you cannot grow the economy. Fortunately, the South African government realises this energy crisis cannot be left to Eskom alone to resolve.
It has [therefore] taken steps to increase electricity generation capacity through its determination to procure about 11 800 MW of generation capacity over the next ten years. This is a welcome development, and Eskom will provide the necessary assistance to help facilitate this programme. Achieving security of supply, and a reform of the electricity industry, will require a partnership approach, and we will play our role in that regard. [However], the country needs far more generation capacity, and sooner than the timelines indicated in the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan.
Successfully accelerating the decarbonisation of our economy is an imperative from a climate change perspective, and from an industrial competitiveness point of view, as the European Union and Great Britain moot carbon export levies, which could have serious negative consequences on sectors like our automotive industry. South Africa therefore has a unique opportunity to pivot from an energy crisis to a reindustrialisation programme by ensuring appropriate local content is secured for new generation capacity.
This will enable more role-players to come on board as it envisages transition to a wider range of fuel options for power generation through the Just Energy Transition (JET). As South Africa’s key energy player, Eskom has a potentially important and enabling role to play in the implementation of the JET. This includes repowering older power stations with cleaner-fuel technologies and renewables as well as the development of renewable projects on available land around each of the power plants. In this way, Eskom will be taking advantage of existing transmission infrastructure to continue extending economic opportunities to those communities who have supported Eskom over the past 50 years. Eskom remains the first South African business to establish a JET Office to drive this catalytic intervention.
Eskom also continues to strengthen the grid to accommodate new power plants and fulfil its current role as the single buyer of power produced by independent power producers.
While the energy supply situation is firmly on the mend, the journey ahead will still be long and tough. Fixing this ageing plant will require a lot of hard work, and there will still be obstacles on the way to sustainability. For our side, Eskom aims to fully restore its own credibility and the reliability of electricity supply.