In recent months, South Africa’s power sector has shown surprising improvements, credited to various factors influencing the stability and performance of power generation.
Hartmut Winkler on Load Shedding: Progress but Premature for a Full Turnaround
Previous Challenges Acknowledged
Eskom, in its annual report, confirmed 2023 as the most challenging year in terms of prolonged electricity shortages. The functional capacity of power generation, which used to be around 90% in the 1990s, has dropped significantly to 50%-60% in recent years.
Factors Contributing to Improvements
Surge in Solar Installations
Private solar power installations have surged, primarily due to government-backed incentives and loan schemes. Between March 2022 and June 2023, private solar installations saw a remarkable 349% increase, with an estimated peak generating capacity of nearly 4,500 MW by June, translating to around 1,200 MW on average.
Reduced Breakdowns at Coal Stations
The decline in sabotage activities and fewer breakdowns at coal stations has positively impacted the power generation process. Although the scale of sabotage remains uncertain, notable arrests have been made in connection to these incidents.
Diesel Supply Stability
Eskom faced a critical shortage of funds for diesel procurement, causing prolonged operation of diesel-powered stations. With the government absorbing over half of Eskom’s debt, a budget of R27.9bn for diesel purchases was allocated, with half already utilized.
Revival of Kusile Power Station Units
Efforts to restore some units at the damaged Kusile power station have yielded positive outcomes. Recent restoration efforts saw 1,600 MW added, contributing to the minister’s optimism. However, there’s a necessity for extensive closures to rectify flue duct issues.
Ongoing Challenges and Concerns
Ageing Coal Plants
The ageing coal plant fleet remains susceptible to breakdowns, posing a significant threat to power stability.
Koeberg Nuclear Plant
The extension project for Koeberg, South Africa’s sole nuclear plant, is progressing sluggishly. If its operating license is not renewed, the country’s generating capacity could drop by 4%.
Extensive upgrades and component replacements are demanded, but completion before the licence expiry appears improbable.
Delayed National Electricity Plan
Disagreements within the government have caused delays in drafting a revised national electricity plan.
The absence of strategic alignment obstructs the development of new power plants, potentially leading to persistent electricity issues in the foreseeable future.
While improvements in the power sector are evident, unresolved challenges, including ageing infrastructure and disagreements over future plans, signal a prolonged struggle to address South Africa’s electricity crisis.