Carol Paton Writer at Large
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Picture: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Picture: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has warned of increased load-shedding over the medium term as the company embarks on aggressive maintenance to arrest the deterioration of its plant.

Briefing journalists on the state of the system on Friday, De Ruyter said that Eskom will implement plans to revert to undertake maintenance as per the guidelines of the original equipment manufacturers, meaning it will no longer defer required maintenance checks and will carry out the recommended plant refurbishments.

This — which he called “philosophy maintenance” — will require longer outages and less available capacity to generate electricity for a period.

A detailed and careful maintenance plan is being drawn up, after which he will be able to inform customers of how much capacity will be available and how much load-shedding will be necessary.

“Load-shedding is not a decision we take lightly. I’m personally involved in every decision to load-shed, but we cannot avoid it given the state of the system. The board has approved a plan that will enable us to do rigorous maintenance. As part of that plan we will also buy in electricity from entities that have excess electricity and increase demand-side management,” he said.

Demand-side management means taking steps to encourage customers to use electricity more efficiently. For example, the display of traffic lights during television broadcasts to warn of vulnerability in the system would be restored.

Downward trend and poor capacity

COO Jan Oberholzer said Eskom’s plant performance remains on a downward trend and with its energy availability factor — the proportion of Eskom’s capacity that is available to dispatch energy — on 68% compared to a target of 75%. It has declined steeply since 2017 when it was 79%.

To improve operations, Eskom is in discussion with original equipment manufacturers to form partnerships on maintenance programmes, which would increase technical capacity and make spare parts more easily available, he said. It has also filled 2,000 critical vacancies at power stations and asked permission from the government to hire additional outside expertise.

De Ruyter said that he is moving “with speed” to implement government policy as outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa a year ago, to prepare Eskom to be split into three “divisions” dealing with generation, transmission and distribution.

“We are in the process of appointing boards for each so that the three businesses operate with accountability. This will put me and the management in a better position to get our arms around this organisation,” he said.

De Ruyter, who has been in the job for only a month, has already faced criticism for what has been perceived as his reluctance to completely unbundle Eskom and instead to “divisionalise” the company.

“We are not moving the goalposts; we want to implement government policy prudently with minimal risk. Moving immediately to full legal entities will result in greater risk,” he said.

The risks, he said, include confusion among lenders who need to know which business they lending to; the transfer of employees, which needs to be done in compliance with labour law; and the fact that business plans for each of the entities are not yet in place.

Update: January 31 2020 
This article has been updated with comment from Eskom’s CEO and COO.

patonc@businesslive.co.za