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Eskom debunking the negative narrative driven by some 'energy experts'
Following the recent reports about the absence of loadshedding being a result of luck instead of concerted efforts by Eskom to turn the situation around, Eskom's Group Executive for Generation, Mr Matshela Koko, writes:

"The Mail & Guardian’s article titled “Eskom’s good news story debunked”, published on 24 June 2016, has reference. There should be no denying of the fact that Eskom performance has improved over the last 10 months. This performance improvement is easily visible to the naked eye, but not to ideologues in whose eyes a state-owned company is incapable of delivering basic services as effectively as Eskom currently does. The improved performance is a result of strong leadership from the top and hard work by Eskom employees. 

The assertion that it is not Eskom’s performance but rather the economic slowdown that has kept the lights on for the past 10 months is disputed. The facts speak for themselves. The peak demand so far in 2016 was 34 899 MW, which is 418 MW higher than peak demand experienced in 2015. To put this in context, 418MW is almost equivalent to one unit at the Kriel power station. Peak demand for electricity in South Africa is during winter and is driven predominantly by the cold weather conditions.

While there has been a 2% reduction in energy consumption year to date, the actual peak demand for this year so far was higher than that of last year. The highest peak of 2016 was easily supplied by available generation and without the use of the expensive diesel units (as compared to 2015) or the implementation of load shedding.

Last year Eskom used five levers to meet demand, namely support by the independent power producers (IPPs), mandatory demand reduction, contracted demand reductions, diesel generation and the utilization of Eskom’s Generation fleet. This year, Eskom has not used mandatory demand reduction, and has managed to decrease diesel usage to a load factor of 0.4% from 25% in 2015. 

Last year Eskom was spending over R1bn a month on diesel costs, however this has been dramatically reduced with diesel expenditure for the month of June 2016 being R19m, down from the R854m in October 2015. This illustrates that Eskom continues to be in control of the power system and is continuously improving in meeting the energy demand.

In the past seven months Eskom increased its energy availability factor (EAF) from 69% to 78% year to date. This has added new generation capacity of 2 599 MW excluding Medupi and Kusile units. It has achieved the highest peak capacity in four years at 39 067 MW, met the high peak demand of 34 808 MW and achieved the planned maintenance factor of 11% year to date. As if this is not enough, the EAF for the month of June 2016 is over 80% and the unplanned maintenance is 9.3%, which is the lowest since 2010. 

It is interesting to note though, that weeks 18 to 23 had higher peak demand than any period last year. To any impartial reader, this is the result of the efforts of Eskom’s employees, top leadership and strategic shift rather than purely the economic slowdown. 

The impact of the over 46 000 Eskom employees plus its partners should not be under-estimated. They have developed a greater sense of pride, believe and dedication to delivering against the agreed stretch targets. Each of these dedicated men and women should be commended for their hard work. 

Doug Kuni questions this performance. He is after all, a conflicted and an impartial commentator. To him, an Eskom that is improving its performance is not good for his IPP ventures. The premise of the IPP projects is partly on the basis that Eskom will underperform and hence IPPs will be essential in guaranteeing security of supply. This ex-Eskom engineer seemingly finds it hard to believe that Eskom is turning the corner. After all, it is Mr Kuni who said in December 2014 that ‘what all South Africans can do now about the current electricity situation is to buy candles and a generator’. “You are going to need it for the next five to ten years,” he said. Eskom fully supports the IPP projects as envisaged by the Department of Energy.

As a result of the improved fleet performance, Eskom has excess capacity of up to 14 000 MW between 2am and 4pm in winter. On average 2 000MW of this excess capacity is being exported daily to our neighbouring states. Eskom continues to seek new customers across the border in order to export an additional minimum of 1 200 MW. This will require the strengthening of the transmission backbone in the SADC region. Efforts are being conducted with members of SADC to undertake this.

Other expert arguments focus on whether Eskom is sacrificing maintenance to attain these results. This again is unfounded as planned maintenance sits at 11.2% against a target of 10%. So not only is Eskom undertaking more maintenance but it is also performing outages more efficiently. There is a funded comprehensive maintenance strategy in place and the improved EAF is testament to the fact that this maintenance regime is working. 

Some experts indicate that Eskom and the new executive team were lucky. Luck is about not load shedding for one day. Not load shedding for 10 months and improving performance across core indicators has nothing to do with luck, and any reputable expert would know that. It is interesting to note that some previous critical commentators, like Chris Yelland, are starting to recognise that Eskom has put in the hard work and has a good executive team in place. However, Mr Yelland has previously questioned the credibility of the executive team and of the maintenance plan to the extent that he called Eskom short-sighted, arrogant and a danger to South Africa. The realisation of Eskom’s plan must surely lead to questioning of Mr Yelland as an expert.

These ideologues, such as Mr Kuni and Mr Yelland, seem distressed that Eskom has improved performance which has negated their opportunity to use load shedding to support the ‘#EskomMustFall movement’."