The crippling power outages that South Africans have had to get used to have been reduced from around 12 hours a day to around two to four hours a day in the past few weeks.
The improvement surprised many citizens and left them wondering why there is suddenly more frequent power on Eskom’s struggling and overloaded network.
According to Tshepo Kgadima, an energy expert, one of the reasons appears to be “a milder winter than expected”.
He explained to the news agency AFP that the demand for electricity in South Africa is lower than expected due to above average temperatures which can be attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon.
Increased electricity prices have also forced businesses to consume less power.
“Even with winter at its peak, demand during peak consumption times is around 30,000 MW instead of the 37,000 MW the government predicted.”
RNews earlier reported that Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa also attributes the reduction in load shedding to the improvement in generation capacity – which makes it possible to carry out planned maintenance work at Eskom’s power stations.
The minister believes that this makes it possible to “balance” the situation.
However, some of the additional electricity comes from independent producers, and is not only made possible by government interventions.
“Independent electricity producers feed solar and wind-generated energy into the grid, which Eskom buys at five times the cost of production in its own power stations,” says Kgadima.
“To further supplement the supply shortage, Eskom has also turned to emergency turbines that burn 14 liters of fuel per second – that’s 50,400 liters per hour. Almost $1.6 billion (almost R30 billion) has been budgeted for diesel purchases this year alone.”
According to Lungile Mashele, an energy analyst, the country’s recent power boost is also due to the postponement of planned maintenance at Eskom’s 14 power stations.
Eskom usually delays the routine maintenance of these power stations during the winter months to stem an increase in demand. This year, Eskom put as many generation units into use as possible, which reduced maintenance to 7% of the overall capacity of the fleet, compared to an average of 13% in the summer.
However, Mashele warns that there is a significant risk if Eskom does not keep up with its aging infrastructure’s maintenance needs.
Furthermore, experts believe that the reduction in power outages is driven by a political agenda in the run-up to the 2024 elections. Big promises are now being made by Ramokgopa and Gwede Mantashe, minister of energy and mineral resources, among others, to end load shedding once and for all.
Ramokgopa has also mentioned several times in the past that the government is considering installing smart power meters that will enable it to control households’ geysers over a distance in order to reduce the demand for electricity and end load shedding. According to Ramokgopa, shutting down geysers can save around 3,500 MW of electricity.
Kevin Mileham, the DA’s spokesperson on energy and mineral resources, recently said that despite assurances, Eskom’s energy availability factor, the percentage of electricity generated compared to overall capacity, remains below 60%.
“Their underperforming coal fleet and lack of transparency instills distrust.
“A decrease in demand and improvement in private power generation has narrowed the gap between supply and demand, but this is unsustainable and any sudden changes could lead to a rapid return to phase 6 or higher load shedding.
“We need transparency from Eskom, the Department of Energy and the Department of Public Enterprises. It is essential that Eskom, the two departments and the national power crisis committee (Necom) follow a transparent approach in South Africa.”