Steam rises at sunrise from the Lethabo Power Station. File picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO.
Steam rises at sunrise from the Lethabo Power Station. File picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO.

In 2019 Primaresearch did a comprehensive analysis of Eskom to determine the underlying causes of the utility’s precarious position. The research dispelled some popular views on the causes of Eskom’s malaise and shed light on critical impact areas.

Key findings that contradicted prevailing opinions included:

  • Lack of maintenance was not the problem.
  • The age of the fleet of the coal-fired power stations was not the cause of the instability.
  • Eskom was not overstaffed.

We highlighted concerning trends where the number of engineering and technical learners consistently reduced, and training spending dropped considerably.

In a subsequent report we showed the importance of skilled staff to the reliable operation of the generating systems. We argued that the planned ramped-up maintenance programme might prove ineffective if the staff skills issues were not resolved (“Staffing at root of Eskom chaos”, February 16 2020).

Eskom management has focused on maintenance for the past two years, yet the generation systems remains vulnerable. It is encouraging that the issue of staff skills is finally being elevated, with the public enterprises minister quoted as saying: “The Eskom board and management have been instructed to take whatever steps necessary to get extra skills they might need and ensure the proper level of professional skill and engineering professionalism.”

We believe a concerted effort on this front could be the key catalyst to return long-term stability to the grid.

Shamil Ismail
Director, Primaresearch

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