Eskom cuts maintenance to the bone and still can’t avoid Stage 4 blackouts

Had it not done so, the country would be at Stage 6 …
The power struggle continues. Image: Shutterstock

Eskom was forced to implement Stage 4 load shedding at short notice on Wednesday (June 9), despite having cut the level of planned maintenance at its power stations to just 1 273 megawatts (MW) – an unprecedented low.

This reduction was in place by Monday already, when the utility announced Stage 1 load shedding in the evening peak. This was changed on Wednesday morning when it announced Stage 2 load shedding until Sunday night.


Puzzlingly, its system status bulletin published on Wednesday “forecast” 3 033MW of planned maintenance this week – more than double the level the utility has confirmed is currently out of service for this reason. This is lower than the expected level as at the end of May, which was 4 138MW for this week (and one has to go back to March to find forecasted levels of 2 500MW of planned maintenance this week).

Eskom still somehow forecasts maintenance of 4 283MW next week, which is highly unlikely given the current situation.

(While the utility typically does the bulk of its planned maintenance in summer and reduces this in winter, the lowest level for planned maintenance projected as recently as last week was 2 400MW in mid-July.)

Eskom has clearly cut planned maintenance to what is only absolutely essential due to the continued poor performance of its coal fleet. Had the utility pressed on with its originally planned maintenance, the generation shortfall would be higher than the 2 000MW which necessitates Stage 2 load shedding.

In fact, the differential between ‘originally’ planned maintenance (even at 3 000MW) and the current level – which equates to 2 000MW – would be the difference between the Stage 4 load shedding required on Wednesday and Stage 6 (where it has a shortfall of 6 000MW).

What does Stage 6 look like? 

For Eskom direct customers in Johannesburg it would mean 11½ hours a day without power.

Source: Screenshot from EskomSePush app

Of course, the scheduling of maintenance is dynamic and changes to underlying performance of generating units will see the utility either bring forward or delay planned shutdowns.

Eskom says the outage at Koeberg (970MW) is no longer included in the planned maintenance figure as it was due to return to service on June 1.

Still, this effectively means it only has roughly somewhere between two and four coal units (of around 300-600MW each) in its entire fleet offline for deliberate maintenance (a typical station has four to six units).

This is unheard of.

This year versus last year

The planned outage factor (amount of generating capacity that is offline for planned maintenance) is at a record low.

It is just 2.8 this week so far (Monday and Tuesday). This is the 1 273MW (or 2.8% of total capacity) that Eskom states is offline.

Contrast this with the lowest planned outage factor last year of 3.27 (later revised to 3.44), which occurred in week 25. Based on total capacity at that time, this was around 1 600MW. Tellingly, the planned outage factor never dropped below 4 (or the 2 000MW level) for the remainder of the year.

In the last week, coal plants reached a peak of 24 700MW (on Sunday at 7pm), but since then the coal fleet has not been able to generate more than 24 000MW. In summer, this would be adequate; when augmented with other sources of power, including imports, renewables and nuclear, it would be sufficient for typical summer peak demand of around 29 000MW.

In winter, however, peak demand is in excess of 32 000MW (32 607MW on Tuesday at 6pm).

Reasons for load shedding

But the coal fleet remains unreliable. On Wednesday morning, Eskom reported “continued delays” in returning units at Kusile, Tutuka, Duvha and Kendal to service. As of last week, Tutuka was producing around 40% of its installed capacity of 3 654MW (six 609MW units).

Sunday Times reported last weekend that last Wednesday night only one of Eskom’s 17 power stations was running at full capacity.

That it (Komati) is among Eskom’s oldest plants is horrifying.

On that night, according to the paper, only 10 of the 17 power stations were running at 50% capacity or above.

In recent weeks, unplanned outages have reached as much as 16 700MW (on May 30 at 6am). Breakdowns as at Wednesday morning totalled 13 752MW. This had increased to 15 087MW by lunchtime as it lost additional units at Medupi and Duvha.

Why can’t Eskom keep the lights on?

Ordinarily, breakdowns at the 13 000MW or even 14 000MW level would be fine.

Eskom’s “likely risk scenario” factors in outages of around 13 000MW (with an additional 2 200MW operating reserve margin). In the evening peaks, it would be able to draw on emergency generation capacity (pumped storage schemes and open-cycle gas turbine plants) to meet demand.

But it is relying on this peaking capacity to keep the lights on during the day.

Pumped storage schemes have been used throughout the day for the past week, peaking at 2 568MW at 9am on Sunday.

This is clearly unsustainable as Eskom simply does not have the excess capacity overnight (2 000MW) to pump this water back uphill.

Read: Eskom’s ‘credible’ plan to keep the lights on (Sep 2019)


The longer than planned outage of Koeberg Unit 1 (970MW), which was originally expected to return to service a month ago, has certainly been a major contributor to the current crisis. Eskom says the unit will be synchronised later this month.

Curiously low level of imports

Curiously, the level of imports is far lower than normal.

This is typically at the 1 500MW level, but the utility’s data portal confirms only half this amount (between 700MW and 750MW) is currently being received.

Despite the use of non-commercial generation (effectively two Kusile units), which ranged from 421MW to 726MW over the past week, Eskom has not been able to avoid load shedding.

Last week, it ate into its important operating reserve margin twice (May 31 and June 3) to avoid the use of expensive emergency resources and/or load shedding.


Sort by:
  • Oldest first
  • Newest first
  • Top voted

You must be signed in and an Insider Gold subscriber to comment.


I see a Karpowership gently sailing by…

Docking to a port near you shortly !!!

How about cutting cadres to the bone?

Gwede and his wife are salivating at the prospect of Karpowership contracts; especially the sweeteners that go with these contracts.

Gwede, how is going with sourcing alternate sources of energy?

i would like to know who are the actual shareholders of Karpowership SA (KPSA)
“a South African company that is 49% Black owned, welcomes the announcement made by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) appointing KPSA as a Preferred Bidder for projects in the Ports of Coega, Saldanha and Richards Bay, to provide power to South Africa’s national electricity grid under the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP).”

The above announcement was made by Karpowership on their official website 19 March 2021 ( – boils down to it that if any government employee,including ministers and direct family, has as much as half a percent share in that company, the government first destroy an inherited, fully functional, power supplier by cadre employees, then they want to be part of a wonderful temporary solution and share in profits made out of their own incompetence, paid by the taxpayer

If true, it seems that politicians are cashing in in good or bad times.

I would feel ashamed of the Eskom tragedy, but no, if we get power from a ship to assist with our very big mistakes, we can also benefit from this one.

Where does it end?

Of course they are!!! what were you thinking? That politicians are there for the benefit of the people?

They didn’t sit back in comfortable European capitals whilst in exile on order to be poor… The people didn’t have to go through all that hardship, you know, trying to raise funds from countries in Scandinavia and elsewhere. And caviar and champagne was expensive you know.

Good heavens, the level of naivety in this country is astounding….

Maybe someone tripped a switch to warrant special expenditure for the power ship.

Stating that “coal fleet remains unreliable” is not an acceptable answer when flaws were “engineered” into the system. For example, the distance between coal mines and the power stations is not acceptable. By building the power station near a rail line, or close enough to a coal mine for a conveyor / or railed shuttle, we would not need to rely on the road transport of coal. Potentially reducing cost and increasing reliability. Building Medupi and Kusile with flaws in their designs is also not acceptable.

Power generating plants have always been designed to be located close to coal mines, on the knowledge that it’s cheaper to transport electricity tha coal. So the power stations can be fed by conveyor belts, directly from the mines into the furnaces. Zero coal stockpiles are required with this direct feed.

But then, cadres deliberately sabotage the conveyor systems, they don’t let them be repaired, so that they can award themselves massive lucrative trucking contracts. Coal transporters are easily funded from money lenders and truck drivers are relatively low-skilled hirees, in plentiful supply. Not like those expensive engineers and techies that would have to repair the conveyors

What easier way is there for self-enrichment? Really.

OMG, Stage 4 and the economy is going down again, but the Rand is holding out. For how long though?

And even with Covid-19 death life insurance payouts some insurers shares are going up.

Oh, and with fewer jobs and more bad debts (94% of South Africans are in financial problems), some Banking shares are up!

Does it make sense?

And our street lights are on 24/7 for at least the last 2 years after reporting it numerous times, nobody cares.

My surplus solar power on a sunny day is wasted because eskom/municipality don’t want it.

In some areas street lights are on 24/7 to prevent cable theft. Is that a problem in your area?

A local high school down the road recently installed a electronic notice board that stays on 24/7/365. Even at 02:00 in the morning it informs readers that they need to report to reception albeit that reception is closed at that time of the day!

Why don’t you use your surplus power during the day to mine crypto’s and then sell your crypto’s at night in order to fund your purchases from the grid?

Until they fire 40% of current staff and rehire some grey haired former engineers, this will remain our reality.

Unfortunately they’ll never rehire nor fire, so we are eternally effed.

The loadshedding is as a result of the ANC corruption and mismanagement for so many years.

RIP Eskom.

And the sad thing is, a candlelight vigil would be very appropriate :-/

Hey cyril the cadre deployment and BEE is working like a charm. You are going to “reset” the country alight.

Right back to the dark age and the bush.

All this right under your nose??? Even with your “billionaires lisp” you wont be able to talk yourself out of this reality.

Who will you blame this time?? Its always someone else or you did not know. Maybe its the anc “processes”?? Hahahahaaaa

You people!! TSK!!!

Even when the old regime decommissioned their old plants their availability was above 80 %
These clowns does not have what it takes to maintain anything — not even fix a pothole !!!

Until a dictator has to talk to one of his comrades and cant use a generator for that, then all this goes bey bey. I believe its also time for them to request price increase again.

Eskom is like a guy walking up a dune, two steps up and sliding one step down. They will never get things sorted.

“Eskom had Stage 4 load shedding yesterday, and predicts Stage 3 today. How would you solve our power crisis?”

A question asked on Twitter by one of the ANC’s most loyal campaigners, Stephen Grootes.

Easy!!! Appoint competent people and managers !!

Impossible with the ANC in charge. What compromises do you think De Ruyter made to be appointed, that the preferred candidates for the CEO position refused to make?

@David Brent Russian nuclear power expansion

Close the door on your way out, the lights have been off for a while.

Incompetence begets incompetence. Corruption begets corruption. As they sow so shall we reap. And now we become junkies for the pain, hopeless masochists that vote for more of the same in a political wasteland of crumbling infrastuture and service failure. Ashes to ashes.

The elephant in the room is the PPPFMA. An overly complicated but legislated procurement process for SOEs whereby the government is trying to force people to be honest in procurement – something that is not possible at all. A dishonest person can never be forced to be honest.

Postponement of planned work simply results in more unplanned work – and of course more ’emergency procurements’ via hastily put together specs, quotes and approvals – something that gives opportunity for dishonest people and also suppliers that will price higher than they should.

as predicted: 1 swallow does not make the summer and on top of it i won’t be even surprised if some of the power stations were sabotaged

last night was stage 4 – durban north area almost 4.5 hours without electricity

another prediction: eskom has reached / passed its return point of repair/maintenance and capital expansion – too little too late with incompetent staff – we will hear lame excuses for every load shedding – previously it was said “for the next 2 years”, later on, “for the next 5 years” you will experience load shedding – well what is the next time estimation – “the next 10 or 15 years”??? – somebody at eskom is talking pure trash.

now is the time that the private sector must start to generate electricity from alternative / renewable power sources as a reliable source of electricity and in due course phase out an imploding eskom 100% – eskom will not recover, they have slept too much and miss managed for too long, now their self-created nightmare is phasing in to become a reality on themselves – the direct result of cadre employed employees of the current government

how many MW they cut planned maintenance by is not the issue!!!!

Does nobody notice the 15GW of unplanned breakdowns??? That cannot be just incompetence, there is a mini-war going on with the unions and suppliers. Is it part of the fight for the ANC?

Do we still have access to a roster indicating which unit broke and what the cause and duration is???

We’ve known that for some time. Recall a few years ago when Eskom execs were “demunding” more money to loot. When it was declined, they promptly implemented “stage 4 load shedding”. When it was eventually granted, the power cuts magically immediately disappeared.

This is African politics at play. Yes we do need more power generation. Yes we can’t get away from power cuts. No we don’t need power cuts to the extent that we have them now. Yes the government should get rid of electricity thieves. Yes the thieves are primarily in ANC voter strongholds which makes it bad for electioneering. Yes Eskom should welcome citizen power generation back into the grid instead of screwing over the people of South Africa. No they wont because of ANC steals.

Andre, we know that you know exactly what to do, and maybe it is worth your job to do it.

1) 50% staff reduction.
2) Switch off non payers even if it includes CR.

I have paid my Eskom account in full, on time for 35 years except for one month a few years ago. Why I cannot remember, but what I do remember is how fast Eskom sent a team out to disconnect me!!!

Eskom is busy making submissions to NERSA again!

46 000 “employees” and R500 billion later the ANC-Eskom cannot even keep the lights on. Well done ANC. Your corruption chickens and insane political games are now destroying the country. But that is Africa.

Proudly brought to you by the ANC…

And the well fed ,suitably chastised( by Adv Dali) minister is having press conferences and working tirelessly to hoodwink some dumb investor to buy into the wreck of SAA! Eskom doesnt affect him and his accomplices as they all have taxpayer funded inverters!!

The large power stations have 6 x 600 MW generators, thereby producing 3,600 MW. They cannot, however, feed this into the grid as they consume a large quantity of their generated power internally to run the power station. The 3,600 MW stations can only export into the grid around 3,000 MW. This may explain some of the missing power

What do you expect? The vast majority of Eskam’s staff would have difficulty in fixing a household fuse. Eskam is an employer of choice for cadres, comrades, family members and girlfriends. Electrical engineering is a colonials’ science, not comprehensible in a third world country.

Remember people, the ANC loves you and cares about your welfare.

Now go back to arguing over pronouns etc.

eskom’s theme song – candle in the wind lol

I wonder if there is not some joker with a dice in his and when it lands on 3 he happily shouts: it is stage 3 and when it lands on 4 shouts: it is stage 4. I hope 5 and 6 on the dice is blanked out. Because nothing in Eskom makes any sense.

If you can successfully run a small/medium business and stay afloat in this country with all the unnecessary red tape, a failing oversight from government, corruption and nepotism, a poor currency exchange, BBEE issues, a national ingrained culture of non payment, even from the very government themselves, an extremely high tax burden, militant unions, excessive public holidays, low productivity and of course the elephant in the room “loadshedding”, you would make any business anywhere else in the world a resounding success.
Probably why South African entrepreneurs are so sought after internationally!

Interesting article. Blatantly clear that ESKOM does not have an effective preventative maintenance regime and blunders from load-shedding to load-shedding.

Problem is that cutting maintenance will bite you later WITH interest, as it currently is doing with unplanned outages, breakdowns, and even admitting shamelessly that they are not doing maintenance.

Add to this the insult of an earlier article about under-recovery and then having to petition NERSA to raise rates in order to make more money to squander in a questionable way.

It does not matter what Eskom does, it always will get bailed out and gross incompetencies will continuously remain rewarded.

How we just smiled knowingly in the seventies when we read about constant power outages in Lagos / Nigeria. Now the same type of ilk is busy paralyzing South Africa.
South Africa – alive with possibilities !

40% to 50% is considered a good pass mark for Matric isn’t it?

This is no surprise. Our President spoke on ENCA last night. We are in serious trouble and will be for the next 20 years. Remember 2 large Oil Refineries one in Durban and the other in the Cape are down so not consuming Electricty. The latest exciting news is not going to solve the problems. We need investment and designs for new Power stations should have been completed and Procurement started but the money is and has been stolen.

The Apartheid Government has to shoulder a lot of the blame.

However Our biggest threat is not Covid or Electricity but how we manage our water. Cannot generate Electricity without water. We need steam to drive the Turbines that are coupled to Generators.

Coal is bad news for firing Boilers.

Retired Oil Refiner

End of comments.



Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Moneyweb newsletters

Instrument Details  

You do not have any portfolios, please create one here.
You do not have an alert portfolio, please create one here.

Follow us: