South African state power utility Eskom is aiming for a steady improvement in its plant performance over the next two years and will continue with high levels of planned maintenance, executives said on Thursday.
Eskom has struggled to power Africa’s most industrialised economy for more than a decade, implementing the worst electricity cuts on record this year, according to research by the country’s national science council.
Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer told a news conference the utility was forecasting an Energy Availability Factor (EAF) of roughly 68% in the current 2020/21 financial year, rising to 70% and 72% in the two subsequent years.
The EAF is a measure of how much time a fleet of power stations is able to produce electricity over a given time period.
Eskom used to target an EAF of 80%, but its plant performance has deteriorated in recent years.
Executives blame repeated breakdowns of its coal-fired generators on a decision by previous management to defer crucial mid-life plant maintenance and the fact many of the coal units are old.
Oberholzer said Eskom was not targeting higher EAF levels over the medium term because it would continue to take a large percentage of its 44,000 megawatt nominal capacity offline for maintenance to try to limit breakdowns and extend the working life of its plants.
Addressing the same conference, Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter said Eskom was on track to reduce its headcount to 38,000 staff by the end of the 2023 financial year, from about 44,000 in March 2020.
Analysts have long argued that Eskom should reduce its bloated workforce to cut costs.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa made a commitment that there would not be mass layoffs at Eskom, so the company has been gradually trimming staff numbers through attrition and by offering senior managers severance packages.