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POWER CRISIS

Electricity Minister Ramokgopa’s report card after six months on the job has been less than electrifying

Electricity Minister Ramokgopa’s report card after six months on the job has been less than electrifying
South Africa’s first Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa at the Eskom Holdings Lethabo Power Station in Vereeniging, South Africa, on 23 March 2023. (Photo: Leon Sadiki / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Some experts think the leadership of South Africa’s first Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, has improved the country’s power utility, Eskom, behind the scenes, but others point to worsening tangible results – and no addition of new electricity generating capacity.

South Africa’s first Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, hit six months on the job this week – a period marked by unprecedented levels of rolling blackouts, which is contributing to another year of lacklustre economic growth.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of an electricity minister in his State of the Nation Address in February, alongside the now abandoned State of Disaster for electricity, was met with scepticism.

Ramokgopa was handed the herculean task of easing the pain of rolling blackouts which, at Stage 6 load shedding, are leaving households and businesses languishing with no power for up to 11 and a half hours a day.

Ramokgopa was to oversee efforts to fix Eskom and ensure that new generation capacity is connected to the national grid.

Almost three months after he was appointed, Ramokgopa finally received his officially delegated powers in May – but they are not quite what they seem.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images)

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan is still the key custodian responsible for overseeing the governance affairs of Eskom, and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe retains the powers to organise tenders and enter into contracts for adding megawatts to the grid.

The gazetted powers of the electricity minister may have further muddied governance between the now five Cabinet ministers who deal with electricity, energy policy and Eskom. They are Ramokgopa, Gordhan and Mantashe, along with Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.

Unlike other Cabinet ministers, Ramokgopa doesn’t have clearly defined performance targets – “making it difficult to track his progress”, says energy analyst Lungile Mashele.

“When he was appointed, I was one of the people who asked what exactly is he going to do? What are his performance agreement targets? And the government has not provided this … All that they said is that he must end load shedding,” she says.

“So, I’m not sure what he was hired to do, but if it was to end load shedding, then, no [there are no indications that load shedding has improved under his watch].”

Ramokgopa reached his six-month mark as electricity minister against the backdrop of the resurgence of Stage 5 and Stage 6 load shedding in the past week, which Eskom says was because of an uptick in planned maintenance coinciding with the breakdown of generating units.

The return of Stage 6, energy experts say, is not surprising, and shows that the grid remains vulnerable and susceptible to plunges in available capacity.

“The occurrence of Stage 5 and 6 load shedding this week is not surprising given the challenges that Eskom faces … In the context of Eskom’s ongoing efforts to improve its fleet’s condition and the unpredictability of incidents such as equipment failures, load shedding remains a possibility,” says Bertha Dlamini, founding president of African Women in Energy and Power.

Daily Maverick canvassed the views of several energy analysts, some of whom, like Dlamini and Professor Mark Swilling, a big-picture thinker who is co-director of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University, take the view that Ramokgopa’s leadership has improved Eskom’s performance.

Swilling says: “I think, overall, things are getting better. But that is not reflected in the everyday experience of households and businesses.

“From the perspective of South African households and businesses, nothing really is changing because [there are] still high levels of load shedding. So, from that perspective, things are getting worse because there’s been more Stage 6 than any previous year.

“However, I would say things are improving overall because there’s a much greater unity of purpose among the key political and bureaucratic elites, and that’s largely be­cause of Ramokgopa.

“It is quite remarkable to say that a politician can change the ball game in such a short space of time – and I think he has.”

To oversee the power crisis response, Ramokgopa is responsible for the Energy Action Plan, announced by Ramaphosa in July 2022, which has chalked up some wins.

 

The plan targets, among other things, improving the performance of Eskom’s power plants and ramping up their maintenance to prevent breakdowns.

In the year since Ramaphosa launched the Energy Action Plan, 16% of the steps laid out in it have been completed and 40% are on track, Ramokgopa announced at a press conference last month.

The minister gave little information about the actions that were off track or had not yet started.

In a list of questions that Daily Maverick sent to Ramokgopa’s media team on Tuesday, 5 September, we asked for more detail on the actions that had been completed and the 12 that were “delayed but progressing well”, and the eight that were “off track”. However, Ramokgopa’s media team did not respond to our questions.

Questions were also sent to Eskom and went unanswered.

No tangible progress

Ramokgopa’s performance on his primary tasks – keeping the lights on, overseeing the overhaul of Eskom and bringing new capacity on to the grid – is not exactly stellar.

Data on Eskom’s power generation and energy availability for the first half of 2023, provided to Daily Maverick by researchers at the CSIR, show that the performance of Eskom’s fleet has continued to decline. The CSIR used publicly available data from Eskom, the app EskomSePush and the National Energy Regulator of South Africa for its analysis.

Speaking to Daily Maverick this week, the principal researcher at the CSIR’s Energy Research Centre, Warrick Pierce, and Monique le Roux, who recently joined Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, both agreed that, based on the data and their analysis, there was no evidence that more megawatts had been added to the national grid, or that it was in better shape than it had been in January.

Eskom’s declining energy availability factor (EAF) trend continued in the first half of 2023, according to Le Roux.

The EAF refers to the average percentage of power stations available to dispatch energy at any given time. A higher EAF percentage would end load shedding, but the average EAF for the period 1 January to 30 June 2023 was languishing at 53.8%, compared with 59.4% for the same period last year.

 

Last year, 419MW of wind and 75MW of solar photovoltaic capacity were added to the national grid, according to the CSIR’s annual statistics on power generation and energy availability data for 2022.

But Le Roux says no new generation has been added to the grid so far this year.

“They haven’t added any new generation – not even any new renewables – which is shocking. CSP [concentrating solar power] is still at 500MW, wind is still at 3,443MW, [solar] PV is still at 2,287MW. Total renewables are still at 6,230MW,” says Le Roux.

“They haven’t added any new capacity, the energy availability factor is down, load shedding has increased exponentially this year.

“There is absolutely no indication that they have done better, except that they have burnt more diesel – at a massive cost, but at least it’s saving us some load shedding.

“That’s the only thing that has really contributed to lower levels of load shedding at certain periods this year,” said Le Roux.

Burning diesel to run Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) – intended only for dire emergencies or for use during peak demand periods – was a centrepiece of Ramokgopa’s short-term plan touted in May to stave off higher stages of power cuts ­during winter.

Eskom burnt diesel like there’s no tomorrow, blowing R12.4-billion in four months.

“Eskom had, at the beginning of the year, expected that it would be burning diesel, but that it would be at a 12% load factor. Instead, what we saw was on average 24%,” Mashele told Daily Maverick.

She said that when a brutal cold front struck the country in July and caused snow to fall in Johannesburg for the first time in more than a decade, “there were days where [Eskom] had an [OCGT] load factor of 60%”.

“They were burning a lot of diesel so that we didn’t experience very extreme load shedding,” she said.

But the lower stages of load shedding in June and August, Mashele says, “were not as a result of the minister’s interventions, but as a result of how the system functioned”.

“First of all, there was a reduction in industrial demand. Second, Eskom’s fleet does perform better during winter due to ambient temperatures. And, third, there was a 50% reduction in planned maintenance,” she said.

Power cuts have been a part of life in South Africa for nearly 16 years, but the past several months have been our darkest yet. In early May, we exceeded the total load shedding hours clocked in 2022, according to Pierce. The CSIR’s analysis shows there have been 5,192 hours of blackouts in 2023 so far, compared with 3,751 in the whole of 2022.

“Depending on how things go, we’re looking at about twice as much load shedding as we had last year,” said Pierce.

Where to now?

This week, Ramokgopa said Eskom had begun to ramp up planned maintenance “to build a degree of resilience in the system”, after it had been cut during winter because of increased demand for electricity. He said that part of the reason Eskom had seen a deterioration in generating capacity was that it had not been sticking to planned maintenance over the years.

He said that, in the short term, this would probably mean “more intensified load shedding”. Pierce and Swilling agreed that part of fixing the problem lies in increasing planned maintenance – which would increase blackouts.

Additionally, in the short term, if Eskom can stick to schedules for the return to service of generating units at Kusile and Medupi power stations, it could add 3,200MW to the grid by the end of this year and another 800MW next year, according to Mashele.

“If we look at the short term, the only thing that’s going to get megawatts online in the next year is … the three units at Kusile, which need to come back, [and] you’ve got the one unit at Medupi, which we’re told will come back next year April,” she said.

Power Purchase Agreements have been signed with 19 projects from Bid Window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme, and six projects from Bid Window 6 are expected to reach commercial close by September this year.

The last two bid windows should result in a total of 2,300MW of new capacity being added.

Le Roux said: “It does seem like with those Kusile units returning and with the Medupi unit coming back, and with the Koeberg unit coming back, there might be a little bit of a gap in the next year or two where we might be able to breathe a little bit easier.

“But then, after that, we’re really in deep trouble if they don’t start adding new capacity to the grid.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Prof Mark Swilling is not a specialist in fixing electricity or Eskom. His qualifications is not in sciences but in Sociology and Political science. Please ask specialists in Engineering and Electricity and not a politician or sociologist. His answer is a proof of my comment. Denise Smit

  • Pet Bug says:

    Not a word about the R65-billion solar power station SAns installed on their roofs – in one year.
    That’s a solid stage or two of load shedding avoided.
    No politician required.
    Bells all round for those that selflessly plundered their bank accounts and credit lines to relieve the agony on the rest of us. Salute.

  • Denise Smit says:

    The “unity of purpose” is the ANC in crisis mode trying to give the impression that they have the ability to fix anything – solely for next years election. The minister is trying to “undermine” loadshedding to fix the economy. Denise Smit

  • Denise Smit says:

    When Andre de Ruiter wanted to do planned maintance and there was an increase in loadshedding Mantashe said he was a saboteur and a traitor trying to bring the country down. Please Mantashe say the same to our electricity minister now. Denise Smit

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Ms O’ Regan has been too kind to Ramokgopa. There has been some minor communication, but certainly not what we expect for the burning questions. Proof? She wrote: “Ramokgopa’s media team did not respond to our questions.”

    Winter woes? Failed. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that in March next year it will be cold again for around 5 months. It’s happened for millions of years. You need 2 brain cells to know that.

    Planned maintenance? Even a tradesman without three questionable degrees will tell you that planned maintenance is essential for breakdown avoidance. The planned maintenance he is talking about is urgent response to imminent failure, not well thought out progress well in advance.

    Highly qualified? Here’s the thing: if he was so good at his job, why isn’t he employed by one of SA’s leading consulting firms, or a construction company? As a student many years ago, the kids who went into student politics were, bluntly, the failures. One young man took 11 years to complete a 3-year BA, but he was the chairman of the SRC, and president of NUSAS. Again, with rare exceptions, anyone who decides to go into politics is a loser – someone who in all likelihood would never succeed in normal society. Why do we allow the dregs of society to govern us? A huge puzzle.

    On his key losses, she is right. Failure all round, but there is also something else conspicuous by its absence: he has said nothing about tackling the gangsters and criminals that caused this mess.

    • Wayne Ashbury Ashbury says:

      I hear you, but can you maybe refrain from generalising. There are so many students studying courses which does not render them losers!. That’s myopic and offensive. This part of your opinion shouldn’t have been allowed on here. I sense your anger but degrading others is not acceptable.

  • Denise Smit says:

    1. Burning diesel will hit us as the taxpayers – we will have to pay for it, as we put up our own solar. Another financial load on the consumer.
    2. We are paying much much more which is becoming more and more scarce to subsidise Eskom even more.
    3. Saying increased loadshedding is good news is the same “positive spin” talk of the president – do not go with that please DM.
    4. The ministers weekly updates are all talk and no action. He avoids all questions specifically about Koeberg by playing ignorant about everything.
    5. He is deployed there by Mantashe and that is why he goes with him on the costly fixing of the rock bottom coal plants and their life extension.
    6. How can he be performing better if the energy availability factor is declining?
    7. How can he be performing better if the only added megawatts to the grid is what we the consumers added with solar installations we payed for ourselves.
    8. Why has the help from Mozambique been stalled.

    He is an ANC politician , there is no fixing of anything – only optics and politicking.

    Denise Smit

  • Denise Smit says:

    9. Still no new on appointment of CEO – not his job.
    10. Mozambique electricity is now off the table – government thing and internal Eskom rescourses must be found.
    11. Karpowerships will go ahead no matter the cost – this has been confirmed.

  • Copy and paste”An interim solution has been found to expedite the return of Medupi Unit 4 from August 2024 to April 2024.” Huh? It’s either Aug. ’23 to April’24 or April ’24 to Aug’24 – 4 mths? Never! -personal opinion as a planner who used to work there – it’s going to need a total rebuild, and before you can rebuild, you have to strip out. So April ’24 to August’25 is more realistic – very tight, but more realistic. To the best of my knowledge other than ordering long lead items, physical work on the Unit on site has not yet started, as we’re into Sept’23 already, April ’24 as a “Project Repair Unit 4” start date is looking good. Based on past history, April ’26 is a more realistic Completion date for getting Unit 4 up and running again – (please tell me I’m wrong)

  • Peter Utting says:

    All new state built housing I’ve seen recently includes solar hot water units. Surely, if the state provided free solar hot water units free to all housing it would get rid of the need for load shedding.

  • Antonio Tonin says:

    More Johnny Talker then Johnny Walker. And guaranteed he’ll keep talking. The walk….not holding my breath

  • You are all missing the point. The BEST way to destroy a business is to apply,…
    1st Racism ,
    2nd Nepotism (family in jobs)
    3rd corruption
    4th cronyism (appointment of friends regardless of their stupidity/incompetence.)

    What are the top 4 policies of the ANC ?
    Why do you think ANC controlled parastatals fail ???
    If we keep the ANC or get the EFF, South Africa will soon have 60 Million starving ANC supporters, 10 million starving Zimbabweans, and 0.1 million tax-paying families, emigrating as fast as they can…

    If you want to change the ANC, first try this test. teach your cat basic algebra. If you can do that, then start on the ANC.
    Good luck

  • gertman says:

    Just by following the Planned Maintenance data released since De Ruyter’s time, it’s clear, since Ramakgope’s appointment, that was reduced by approximately 50%. Anyone with any experience in maintenance of complex process systems/plants will tell you… maintenance delayed is just never caught up. It inevitable leads to major and more costly failures with increased downtimes. Snowball effect. Easy to figure the results from here… At least some cmrds did well supplying the increased diesel at loaded rates…

  • Con Tester says:

    A failure?! Not even a little of it! By ANC standards, Ramokgopa has done spectacularly well: He holds high office, earns a ton of money, talks up a storm in public, travels a lot on the taxpayer’s dime, still has the stink of corruption hanging around from his days as Tshwane mayor, and has achieved nothing useful as a minister.

    And he’ll have even more to crow about when Ekskrom’s OCGTs start packing up, which is overdue, given that they are designed to bridge temporary demand peaks, not be run continuously as the grid’s main workhorses.

    And after that, he will be able to boast how he did nothing other than funnel taxpayer money into dodgy hands to avert the financial death spiral in which Ekskrom currently finds itself because of reduced income from a combination of increases in load-shirking and in self-reliance, chiefly rooftop solar.

    That hardly makes for a failure by the ANC’s lights.

  • Notinmyname Fang says:

    ‘Less than electrifying’ has to be one of best understatements. Four power cuts a day, what more do we need to endure? At least with the last crew they told us the plain truth. Now it’s an electricity black out and an info black out

  • Grant Turnbull says:

    They put the knife into the back of DeRuyter and got rid of him for finding the truth. Then they effectively replace him with a ‘comrade engineer’ and a whole ministerial dept with blue light security, DG etc. Apart from a slick mouth, he has done nothing, nada el-zippo. We still have no power and his Moz comrades are left embarrased by his promises. Typical ANC politician- all air and no action.

  • Wytze Voerman says:

    I think you lot of commentators are very unfair and very forgetful. Which of the ‘key losses’ had you reasonably expected to be improvements? First Andre de Ruyter got criticized beyond belief by all and sundry who had no idea how serious the situation was, then happily ignore his insights, and now we have an ANC minister who can do better? It took many years to destroy Eskom and you still expect that it can be fixed within a couple of months? Or even a couple of years?
    You just are not aware of the magnitude of the situation and the impossibility to find a solution to satisfy the pen pushers. I think it is pretty irresponsible of DM to publish such a one-sided article. I wonder what their objective is.
    Please wake up: Eskom is going to take years to come close to a form of solution. What do you expect will happen when pretty soon the worst of the power stations will switch themselves off? All this is not constructive!
    You guys want to do something positive? Support and get seriously involved in voter education. The problem is not just the power stations, it is the government of the last 25 years still here today! Just outing them in a commentary column is not going to help. Do something!

  • Martin Engelbrecht says:

    Talk and no action, for goodness sake install solar, nothing is going to change! Your are delusional if you think otherwise we are 30 years on this journey.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Noted that Sabotage, and the Presidential Cartel, the Mesh-Kings Cartel, the Legendaries Cartel and the Chief Cartel are not mentioned in this article.
    That is an ANC success. He has deflected all of the above. Who is watching the “continuing” investigation or has it stalled now that de Ruyter has departed?
    We are waiting for the new IRP and let us see where Karpowerships has slipped in for 5 years or not.
    “In a list of questions that Daily Maverick sent to Ramokgopa’s media team on Tuesday, 5 September, we asked for more detail on the actions that had been completed and the 12 that were “delayed but progressing well”, and the eight that were “off track”. However, Ramokgopa’s media team did not respond to our questions. WELL he has learnt from Cyril in Parliamentary replies. Avoid the answer talk around it.

    Questions were also sent to Eskom and went unanswered.

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