Is Eskom doing more maintenance than under De Ruyter?

Connie Queline

Is Eskom doing more maintenance than under De Ruyter?

There was a time – not too long ago – when former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter and former COO Jan Oberholzer preached the doctrine of “reliability maintenance”. That is, a plant would be taken out of service at whatever cost to ensure its (overdue) maintenance and, therefore, performance going forward. Thus, a 600MW generator that was barely performing at, say, 100MW of generation capacity on average over four weeks, would be removed from service to try to get it closer to the (average of) 200MW or 300MW or even higher mark. 

Moneyweb’s analysis almost exactly 11 months ago shows that Eskom hadn’t really succeeded in doing any more maintenance in 2022 – or indeed 2021 – than in previous years. This level stayed at around 10% of generation capacity. At 48 000MW-odd, this equates to 4 800-5 000MW over time. 

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Indeed, the level of planned maintenance jumped considerably after De Ruyter’s appointment, but this was never near even 12% (not to mention 15%). 

What’s the picture like now?

An analysis of the last three months of generation capacity from Eskom – from effectively the start of November until the start of February – shows a dramatic turn in events. 

The energy availability factor (EAF) – a measure of how much generation capacity is available – across those 14 weeks is exactly flat, on average, at about 25 000MW. This is according to Eskom data, which shows that, at any given time, only around 53% of capacity is available. (There has been a slight improvement of about 0.5%.)

Unplanned outages, in other words breakdowns, are on average 7% better over the last 14 weeks than the previous year.

In simplistic terms, this equates to about 1 000MW of generation capacity (15 700MW versus 14 600MW). 

Since New Year’s Day, the level of unplanned maintenance has been 10% better than last year! Instead of dealing with close to 17 000MW of breakdowns, Eskom currently manages around 15 000MW (14 918MW). 

Source: Eskom

This is a phenomenal change – 10% at this level makes a major difference. One would assume that this equates to between one and two stages of load shedding. 

However, Eskom has been particular in ensuring that the demands of the power system in winter are met. In this calendar year (so far), it has removed 37% more generation capacity from its fleet for planned maintenance than last year. That’s nearly half! 

Put simply, Eskom has been performing maintenance on as much as 3 000MW of generation capacity since New Year’s. On average, it has removed nearly 2 300MW of capacity from the grid. 

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Compared to maintenance done last year under De Ruyter, this is 20% more. In between all of this, Eskom has managed to maintain its EAF at almost exactly flat. Unplanned maintenance is the great unknown, but this is down substantially over the last year.

Read: So Eskom, how is the reliability maintenance coming along? [Sept 2023]

If one were to consider the last 14 weeks (since the beginning of November, effectively), the planned maintenance on Eskom’s generation fleet is up 20% year on year. This is material. While the EAF is effectively flat, this is a consequence of far more maintenance being done than previously.

Of course, the return to service of the three Kusile units, which had been offline last year due to the collapse of a flue duct (chimney), has provided Eskom with increased headroom (>2000MW) to do more maintenance. 

Breakdowns of generation plants – basically coal units – are down 7% in the last 14 weeks and over 10% since January 1. 

This, then, busts the myth that maintenance levels were higher under De Ruyter. Already, in January last year, Moneyweb showed that this was not the case. Now, it is completely negated. It is encouraging that Eskom is managing these levels of planned maintenance under a relatively tight power system. Of course, during the day, it is being helped by the contribution of private rooftop photovoltaic solar. 

The prognosis for winter looks good. Let’s hope. 

Read/listen:
Thank private solar for no daytime load shedding, not Eskom
How will Eskom’s load limiting plan be implemented?
Power-starved SA region turns to elderly coal plant

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