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Load shedding: How did it suddenly get to this?

The numbers make for grim reading.
Since early April, Eskom has managed to keep unplanned outages below the 8 500MW level for only a third of the time. Image: Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg

While the immediate causes of the generation crisis at Eskom are well-known, the emergency it found itself in this week has been some time coming. The utility and others have confirmed a number of outages, both planned and unplanned.

These include one unit offline at the Koeberg nuclear power station for refuelling (planned), “five generating units that are unavailable due to boiler tube leaks” and the failure of the coal conveyor at Medupi power station on Saturday, “thus limiting the generating capability to approximately half the station output” (some have suggested the real figure is lower than half).

The decision to implement Stage 2 load shedding with very little warning on Wednesday is shocking, given that Eskom admits it has been using “pumped storage and OCGT [open cycle gas turbine] generators … extensively” since Saturday. Eventually, diesel and water levels got to the point where these were no longer available options.

Perhaps Eskom gambled that it could generate its way out of the crisis?

The issues predate Saturday, however.

From a peak in April of 72.99%, the utility’s energy availability factor (EAF) has – barring one or two exceptions – steadily deteriorated over the past six months. For the year-to-date, EAF is averaging 67.75%, much lower than the 71.84% achieved last year. This only tells half the story, however, as Eskom always ramps up planned maintenance from spring. In theory, this was to have roughly doubled from the 3 000/3 500 megawatt (MW) level to 6 000MW from late August. This will, understandably, impact EAF as this plant is not available.

Source: Eskom weekly supply status bulletins

The critical and flawed assumption (base case) in Eskom’s system outlook, which informs the three-month outlook updated weekly, is that unplanned breakdowns will total 8 500MW. This is a not insignificant amount of generation, representing around 16% of its total dispatchable capacity.

Since early April when detailed statistics became available from Eskom, it has managed to keep unplanned outages at below this level for only nine of the 26 weeks (a third of the time). After winter, when planned maintenance was ramped up, unplanned outages were below the 8 500MW level for only three of the nine weeks to last Sunday (October 13).












To 18/08

To 25/08

To 01/09

To 08/09

To 15/09

To 22/09

To 29/09

To 06/10

To 13/10

Dispatchable capacity










Energy availability factor (Eskom EAF)










Planned outage factor










Unplanned outage factor










Other outage factor










* Estimates – based on factors divided by capacity, as disclosed (separately) by Eskom.

Complicating matters further is a new metric disclosed by Eskom – the “other outage factor”. Over the 26-week period, this has equated to anything from 535MW (1.12%) to 1 552MW (3.21%).

For the year to date, unplanned outages have averaged 20.83% (versus 15.87% in 2018), while the other outage factor has averaged 1.52% (versus 1.89% in 2018).

Its winter plan, as detailed in the joint briefing by Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan and Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza (and Eskom execs) in April, required unplanned maintenance to be under the 9 500MW level. But unplanned outages peaked at 10 922MW in early August and were above 9 500MW for 13 of the 17 weeks since early June!

Even at significantly above the 8 500MW level, however, Eskom has managed to keep the lights on through a combination of:

  • Reducing planned maintenance to below originally forecast levels;
  • Non-commercial sources (Kusile and Medupi units not yet having achieved commercial operation);
  • Renewable supply (excluded from dispatchable generation figures above); and
  • Emergency peaking resources (pumped storage and OCGT turbines).

The base case of 8 500MW is therefore wholly unrealistic, especially at this stage.

As this author wrote in April: “The fundamental problem with this plan is that it constructs a reality where Eskom is seemingly able to choose or plan which stage of load shedding to implement. Load shedding is a function of available generation capacity. On any given day, that may change due to hundreds of variables. And sometimes, as happened in mid-March, bad luck arrives all at once.”

Read: The problems with Eskom’s load shedding plan

This weekend bad luck again arrived all at once. That it happened during a period when Koeberg is being refuelled (with 930MW offline) is far less than ideal.  

In hindsight, for us to have skirted through winter without load shedding is an enormous achievement (with a lot of luck).

Source: Eskom weekly supply status bulletins

In its summer plan, presented on September 4, Eskom said it needed to execute an average of 5 500MW of planned maintenance. It is simply not managing to do so.

In April, I held that the “next nine months are going to require an almighty effort, day by day, to ensure that plant is not run unnecessarily hard and that the required maintenance gets done in order to keep load shedding from spiralling to Stage 4 again. The risks are real.”

Over the next few days, Eskom has to avoid losing control of this situation, failing which we will be right back in the chaos of mid-March, which took three weeks to get out of.

The prognosis for 2020 – especially winter – is going to depend a lot on how much maintenance it is able to conclude over the next five-and-a-half months.

Quick fixes like adding 220MW to its Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme (which it has done) and running a unit from each of Kusile and Medupi hard despite these not yet having achieved commercial operation (which it continues to do) do not solve the underlying problem.

Oh, and a group chief executive might help.

Hilton Tarrant works at YFM. He can still be contacted at



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My 5KW solar panel install is still working wonderfully, plus the sun is guaranteed to come up tomorrow, and its entirely free!!! With Eskom now load shedding seriously, expect more road accidents with most lights (‘robots’) off, with no traffic officers, coupled with the reckless driving habits of some drivers and lawlessness of not obeying even red lights.

Lawlessness in SA is a huge problem particularly on the road and it’s something I see every populous group, culture, religion etc represented. Hell.. wealth it seems doesn’t help with it either as I see everyone from taxi drivers to ceos doing the same..

But in Jhb we have the video submissions to JMPD and weekly I submit my incidences, videos with number plates and incident report to them and I’m hoping it results in fines dished out.

With the new demerit system coming in, cameras being more used(private and public monitoring with submissions), soon we will go back to the seemingly old school, doing good because at the very least you never know who is watching (or god) scenario which is what I believe is lost on millennials.

agree, lawlessness is also my biggest worry.

Please name of the CEO?

Ahh the only way to resolve every issue in this place, private sector generation for competition. The problem with Eskom is the same as Telkom was, and solar is to eskom as cellphones were to Telkom.

Now Telkom are converting their land lines into tele-cell phones. They look like a telephone but are mobile like a cell phone up to a 300km radius. its only a matter of time before they are converted into cell phones.

It’s unbelievable that we have all this free energy in the daytime and the ANC – who love talk fests but no action – are not making use of it. Yes, we do need coal for so-called baseload power at night. But factories work in the day, traffic lights work in the day, millions upon millions of airconditioners work in the day, shops work in the day…….so, get off your ar*es ANC and go ahead with the massive amount of free power that SA has been supplied with. It’s a no-brainer. But it seems that some people have no brains.

No Hilton- It did not “suddenly” come to us.
This crises has been brewing since 1994 when the ANC took over this country. In the late 90’s the real problems started with their affirmative action programs and the retirement of senior experienced staff.
During the mid 2000’s I attended quite a few meeting of the Energy Intensive User Group as an alternate member representing a large Gold Mining Company and already the build program was looking quite stretched as the large projects of the time was being pushed out because of over capacity.

We warned on numerous times that the delays will result in a deficit of power given the growing economy of the time. Still in 2006 this could still have been avoided had Ingula been on time and Medupi started on time with “Bravo” in final planning for tender.

All this was then derailed by exceptionally poor executive decision making and non existing design and project management skills.
Only the weak economy of the last 8 years have spared us a worse fate. If the growth had not plateaued/tapered off we would have been a lot worse off.

Depends on how you define the scope.. if we want to go back far why stop at 94? Let’s start when electricity was introduced to the country? Was the planning done right? Was training done sustainably vs populous? Was electrical coverage sufficient for country populous?

My point is simple.. people who want to overlook the obvious deficit of the past like brushing over it like it was a utopia to begin with. Please.. anyone with a brain over 30 who isn’t blind to the past knows better.

The scope of this article was clearly hinged on the crisis management over this last year or so with the new board plans going wrong and how they desperately trying to keep things going.

Looking at it all my concern isn’t what’s happening but rather the lack of proactively informing people. Yes.. keeping up a appearances sometimes helps in a financial environment where they will punish you and a lot of people as demonstrated here are looking for the slightest thing to blame.. BUT I reckon keeping, at the very least, business sector informed might have helped.

In project management, Managing Customer (stakeholder) expectations is often more important because then people plan around shortages. It seems like the current ceo and chairman hasn’t learnt this and continues the facade his predecessors have started.

Until they get Kusile and Medupi working they will be in continual crisis management mode. In a previous era these plants would have been working without too much drama.

If you can’t do specialized engineering and project management then stay out of the kitchen.

Indeed – I was one of the real engineers (these days you can call yourself an engineer when you hold a broom upright) that left Eskom in 1999. I was so proud of Eskom when I started working there but could not stand the cadre deployment and gross mismanagement. So I left. Along with most other competent engineers I knew. Simply because it was evident that we had no future there.

EAF in 1998 was 92%. Yes 92%! Think about that for a while. It was the 2nd biggest fleet on planet earth and were at the very top of the availability scale. To go from 92% to 67% takes a special kind of decay.

I’m still staying and know we need to fix this country but have broken most reliance on Eskom and also now runs my own solar system. My heart goes out to 99% of South Africans that simply can’t afford it. Even to those who don’t have the cognitive ability to link their own dire situation to the poor quality leaders they elect.

And rumour has it that most of the huge wind turbines you see turning are not connected to the grid. Eskom doesn’t have the know how or is unwilling to use this power. Many of these wind turbines were donated by European companies in order to get carbon credits. Is this true Eskom?

Yes, it maybe true. Somebody told me that the electricity generated from the wind park near Bedford, EC. flows into the ground. Just picking up dead birds everyday.

It is things like this (wind park generated electricity) not connected,that makes me furious – the other fact is that the private sector stands ready to help out in the eskom crisis but the anc / eskom does not actually want that help because the private sector is directly based on a fully operative business, which immediately means it does not create jobs for pals, but generate electricity in the most economical way possible – in direct opposition of the unions idea how a business is managed. eskom = a dying organisation, with at least 27000 incompetent/non-productive staff, who does not want any professional help to save itself, but continuous funds/donations from the government via the taxpayers money.

Loadshedding is a brilliant dictator tool to control and manipulate the tax payer to feed their ruler’s lust for money.

More than that i suspect its an attack on government to show who is boss.
Eskom or ANC.

My TV was stolen last week so this load shedding does not really affect me…

If they also took your DSTV modem or Apple TV then I sympathise …. who watches local TV? 😉

Who wants an Apple anything?

It turns out that wearing a funny hat indoors is not enough to be able to run Eskom.

If the hat fits, wear it – if you’re inclined to be minster of police or strut around pushing nobs and buttons.

In order for the South African economy to survive, we need a circuit breaker or a trip switch between the attitude and mindset of the average voter, and the status of the infrastructure and service delivery.

Every sociopolitical system incentivises certain types of behaviour, while it discourages other behaviour patterns. The collectivist culture incentivizes unaccountability, immaturity, dependency, underperformance, criminality and the victim attitude, while it discourages the taking of responsibility and forward planning. Collectivism discourages the delivery of products and services to the consumer. After 25 years, the state of the local infrastructure has become a manifestation of this system.

It is impossible to cure the symptoms without curing the disease first. What we need is more of the free-market capitalist system with its attributes of law and order and property rights. This system incentivizes accountability, responsible and mature behaviour, individualism, performance, self-improvement and the satisfaction of the needs of the consumer. This system discourages the victim mentality, dependency, laziness and parasitic behaviour, while it enforces the rule of law.

Socialism is the rule of man, while capitalism is the rule of law. The state that our economy is in and the efficiency of service delivery is merely a reflection of the system we chose. We need a circuit breaker between the collectivist mindset and the economy. This circuit breaker is known as privatisation.

I do not think that the ruling party has a collectivist culture. It is more like a feudal one, the chief/lord of the manor/president is always right. During the Zuma years Ramaphosa did nothing, blindly followed and protected Zuma. The voters who cheered Mbeki did the same to Zuma and are doing the same today.

What will it take for a nation to realize that they should abandon socialism, collectivism or communism in favour of capitalist policies? This is the real question. Seventy million people had to die of famine under Mao in China before the rest came to realize that “it does not matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”.

They should be tattooed on the forehead. “Please don’t ever reproduce”

Kusile and Medupi should soon be retired and still not working.

Must be terrible to realize you just have no ability whatsoever.

What is annoying is when they talk they make out as though they know exactly what is going on. From the top to the bottom they know nothing.

CR say’s ESKOM was severely damaged by state capture. Wonder where he was? Oops I forgot. Before being NO1 SOE’s fell directly under him.

No idea. He is trying to run it like a union. The socialist way.

Tattoo him please.

Dunning- Kruger, all those in charge suffer from it.

100 % , this is like when you are told that the sugar has run out for the 10 th time in a row. No planning, no consequence, the sun she comes up, the sun she goes down!!

If Nersa allows 1 – 10MW solar without a licence day time load shedding and OCGT will drop drastically

The timing of the most recent blackout is suspicious. Right at the same time as CR’s investment conference in the UK, to discredit him.

Earlier, with the WEF investment conference we had the zeno attacks.

I think the State Capturers have a hand in here, through Zuma’s intelligence operatives.

The treasonous destruction of the State Capturers are continuing and the NPA is sleeping.

Looking at the Eskom supplied graphs above, I shudder at the quality of people running that dinosaur. I don’t like to be overly pedantic, but the graphs and tables have the following problems:

1. No units on any of the axes or tables.
2. The x axis on the graphs are presumable days or weeks? How about putting the actual date there rather than taking the Excel default labels.
3. The ‘factors’ stated in the table are not factors, but probably MWh? A factor is a ratio.

“I don’t like to be overly pedantic, but”
1. The charts are literally labelled EAF, hence Eskom Availability Factor (%) as disclosed by the utility.
2. They are weeks. The entire article references these???!
3. These are MW. The table will be amended shortly.

“I shudder at the quality of people” … Who write articles on technical matters but do not fully check the specs and do not proof read.
Yes, this comes from a very pedantic scientist and engineering professional.
Please just get these points correct. If not, they cause considerable misunderstanding of the facts.

HT is just a journalist. Maybe one day we can get him to properly label things like graphs, illustrations and tables. But until then let’s just remember he’s just a journalist, not a writer. Give him some time.

I have a family friend who was high up in Eskom a number of years ago. His sister ran the Medupi power station. He went to Durban with trucks to collect a shipment of spares. On arrival he fond empty crates. He wrote a report about the situation and he was dismissed with a payout. He is now high up in an overseas position and very happy. His remark to us was that we would be in serious problems within 5 years. That happened about 14 years ago.

Amazing…. Is there something sinister here? As soon as Ramaposa does something that the world likes and things look good Eskom has a power outage to negate everything that he has done. Seriously look back on all the outages.

Maybe it is a fightback from the RET lot?

Eskom know how to time it right. Manufacturers are starting additional production before the December shut down. Great for the economy, expect some food shortages in December if this continues or price increases to pay for private diesel generators.

I can still drink room temperature beer.LOL

Hey mon, dont you dare. This is Afrika.

The non-political answer is: it’s DIRECTLY CAUSED by switches activated by Eskoms’s operators at their National Control Room (at Simmerpan, Germiston). The effect is extremely SUDDEN:

Electricity is the flow of electrons through a conductor in an electrical field. It travels as electromagnetic waves at about the speed of light, which is 670,616,629 miles per hour,1 or approx 300,000 kilometers per second.

The impact of such power-cut reaches your home or business within 0,005 seconds (5 milliseconds) irrespective where you are located within sunny Mzansi. Give another few milliseconds for your incandescent, LED or CFL lighting globes (or whatever connected elec equipment you have) to shut down.
However, not everything shuts down in milliseconds: you will notice your fridge’s compressor-motor takes perhaps 1-2 seconds to stop rotating….caused by the phenomenon of ‘inertia’ (it has its own formula based on distance of particles from the axis of rotation, that value squared & then multiplied by mass or rotating particle).

I hope I’ve addressed 2 questions:
(i) HOW SUDDEN it happens
(ii) Hilton Tarrant’s desire for “numbers” he wanted for “grim reading” 😉

Wait, there is more!! *lol*
Conversely, the effect on your electrical equipment when the power goes BACK ON, makes for even more ‘exciting’ reading………

This is just the beginning of many years of disruptions. Even if the new builds were up and running it would not be enough as Power stations as well as Oil Refineries have to be shutdown for Maintenance as well as upgrades. A lot of the fleet is old and inefficient. The only answer is Capital is needed for new builds managed by overseas investors and not Eskom. Wind and Sun projects need to be accelerated and incentives need to be made for most households to generate and excess fed back onto the Grid. It is happening all over the World but sadly with the ANC blowing smoke up peoples arse this to them is out the box.

Wally Stowe

Retired Oil Refiner.

Got my Generator and on Gas

Thanks for putting the facts across so clearly. It’s normally difficult to see what is what between the smoke and mirrors…

Lets import generators from china

“Load shedding: How did it suddenly get to this?”
Short answer: “Whatever the ANC runs it ruins”

More details:
Cadre deployment
Firing competent staff
Tenderpreneur deals for those who “invest in the ANC and your business will prosper”
Delinquent (ANC-run) munnicipalities
Hiring incompetent staff
Lack of maintenance
Ethnic cleansing
Refusing to use IPPs
Jobs for pals
Racial quotas
ANC connected so protected
Lack of accountability
Malignant unions
Illegal connections

Thanks. Once the economy turns and demand picks up Eskom will be further be behind the curve. With so many not paying, besides the corruption we are dead in the water. Now with the Revenue shortfall we are in more trouble. Do we now how much revenue the discus has lost when load shedding started. All high energy uses such as Smelters all closed shop and moved to China.

We are truly up the creek but the ANC are in denial.

If you are young and have the bucks start working to get off the grid but is expensive but over a 20 to 30 year period it will pay for itself including maintenance


Is there any truth to the rumour that the unions are protesting against sunshine? They say that all this daily sunshine is putting the Corrupt Eskom out of business and want the government to take immediate action. (PS Don’t tell them about wind.)

End of comments.



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