Eskom running out of steam to meet energy needs

Date: Nov 7, 2018

Eskom would be unable to meet the electricity needs of the country over the next five years unless it could improve the performance of its plants, the company said in response to questions on Tuesday.

To meet the projected demand for electricity, Eskom needs an average of 75% of its plants available to dispatch electricity over a year. This is called the energy availability factor (EAF).

However, plants can be out of service due to planned maintenance or unplanned outages. The EAF for the year so far is 73% — a significant decline on 2017’s 79% — and has fallen alarmingly in recent weeks to below 70%. The trend indicates that the average for the year is likely to fall further.

The trend has energy experts concerned, fearing a return to earlier years when Eskom was unable to meet demand and resorted to load shedding to avoid crashing the system.

Engineer and publisher Chris Yelland said that while there was generally a decline in EAF  going into summer as more units were taken down for routine maintenance,  “this year’s (seasonal) decline is much bigger. What is really disturbing is that it is going down very fast.”

Eskom said that the decline was due in part to planned maintenance “but also to unplanned events”,  such as the explosion at Lethabo in the Free State  in early October, taking an entire unit out of service.

Eskom acknowledged, however, that the present performance of the plant would not be sufficient for the future. In a statutory document called the medium-term system adequacy outlook, which it published at the end of October,  it projected that in scenarios of low and moderate demand 75% energy availability factor was needed. If this was not achieved, Eskom would have to resort to other options for generation or cut demand, implying load shedding.

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