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Another year comes to an end. Another year of rotational blackouts. We are deep in the throes of load-shedding and will likely ring in the New Year with bubbly-filled glasses in the dark, for the third consecutive year.

Let’s do a quick rundown of 2023’s energy highs and lows. A year ago on Thursday, André de Ruyter resigned as CEO of Eskom. What followed was two months of violence and retribution aimed at the former CEO, the Eskom board, government ministers, Eskom employees and even an evasive Mpumalanga coal cartel.

While De Ruyter busied himself writing a tell-all book about a company he had fiduciary responsibility to, the country was plunged into continuous stage 6 load-shedding.

In a response to mounting political, international and investor pressure, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as the first electricity minister, whose sole mandate was to put an end to the crippling load-shedding.

On February 9 the president also announced a national state of disaster on electricity, apparently to co-ordinate a government response to load-shedding and support the Energy Action Plan.

On February 22, after a special board meeting, De Ruyter left with immediate effect. On April 5 the state of disaster was also terminated with immediate effect.

In May Eskom surpassed its previous load-shedding record, with energy shed at 8,116GWh in 2022 versus 8,351GWh shed between January 1 and May 7. This year we have experienced the most intense load-shedding yet and are currently at a record 334 days of shedding with two weeks of the year remaining.

Shortly after, a debate started raging over the closure of Kusile, when Ramokgopa stated that the decision had been ill-considered. A bunfight ensued, while the people of Komati languished in poverty and unemployment.

De Ruyter and Eskom’s former just energy transition head are now based offshore, while environment minister Barbara Creecy wants the World Bank to take accountability for the disaster at Komati.

At the Brics summit in SA, China donated emergency power equipment worth R167m. In a December 1 ceremony, 450 generators were handed over and earmarked for clinics, schools and police stations. The fact that these generators couldn’t power up my house, and this donation constitutes technology dumping when we have local companies that make generators, is scandalous.

On the same day the Pretoria high court determined that load-shedding breached several constitutional rights and ordered the electricity minister to “take all reasonable steps” to ensure schools, hospitals and police stations are exempt from load-shedding by January 31 2024. It is a daunting and near impossible task. If only the donated generators were industrial scale.

In December, Dan Marokane was appointed Eskom CEO, a year after his predecessor resigned. Given that he was shortlisted by the board in April, the time it has taken to appoint him formally is testament to the challenges Eskom faces with its shareholder.

The updated Integrated Resource Plan is imminent and promises to bring with it a plethora of determinations in 2024. Nuclear procurement is pending, with a determination having been made to procure 2,500MW of new capacity.

Last December unplanned maintenance accounted for 33.7% of load-shedding, with the fleet energy availability factor (EAF) at 50.4%. As things stand, the unplanned capability loss factor is 28.4% and the EAF is at 55.4%. These are signs of a general improvement at Eskom, and maintenance is also the highest it has been since April 2022 at 14.7%.

The technocrat in me is eagerly anticipating whether Eskom will reach its self-imposed EAF target of 65% by March 2024.  

In 2023 anarchy was set loose in the sector, yet I remain hopeful. As former Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara very eloquently said: “You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. Besides, it took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today.”

This year has been the year of madness — here’s to a brighter 2024.

• Mashele is an independent energy economist.

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