- Eskom had its worst load shedding to date in 2021/22
- Poor maintenance was blamed for the problem
- But Eskom was again unable to keep to its maintenance schedule this year
Eskom’s maintenance backlog has been growing over the past year, with a quarter of planned projects for 2021/22 being pushed back to next year due to cash flow concerns.
The delayed maintenance adds to historical backlogs, some dating back to 2013, that continue to weigh on asset reliability. Eskom has recorded its worst energy availability factor ever, with an average of only 63% of the plant available at any one time.
This has resulted in a record number of almost 1,200 hours of load shedding in the fiscal year to date. It also led to higher utilization of expensive diesel-fired gas turbines – which were already eight times what was budgeted.
One of Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter’s key strategies for restoring the facility from Eskom when he took over the plant two years ago was the implementation of ‘Reliability Maintenance’, where facilities are maintained strictly to original equipment manufacturer specifications.
Eskom executives presented their quarterly status of the system on Thursday. Load shedding remains a risk, Eskom said, especially as the two blocks of Koeberg – Eskom’s most reliable power plant – would fail over the long term. This removes 920 MW from the system for more than 300 days.
Generation leader Phillip Dukashe said the biggest issue constraining the maintenance program is Eskom’s cash flow. The Chief Financial Officer was unable to release funds in a timely manner due to liquidity constraints.
The uncertainty surrounding cash for maintenance also led to inefficient maintenance scheduling, as units were taken out for long-term maintenance, putting them out of service long before the cash was available.
Of 84 maintenance shutdowns planned for this year, 28 have been postponed to 2022/23.
“The plant is unforgiving and will turn itself off and fail.”
Phillip Dukashe, Head of Eskom’s Generation Division
Dukashe explained the impact of long-term maintenance backlogs on plant performance. For example, a maintenance plan from 2013 to overhaul the controls and instrumentation in 11 power plants is still pending in most cases. High load losses were also due to: failure to refurbish cooling towers; Boiler tube leak repair on a 28% backlog of projects; and shutdowns at emission levels caused by inefficient equipment.
Despite the lack of energy availability factor, Eskom plans to operate its coal-fired power plants above the benchmark in the coming fiscal year, according to the company’s tariff increase request last week.
Dukashe acknowledged that this would cause greater wear and tear on the facility.
De Ruyter said Eskom’s coffers “have now started pouring maintenance money” and he intends to implement “reliability maintenance” rigorously. Eskom would not compromise on planned maintenance when unplanned outages are high, he said.
“We are fully committed to restoring the long-term viability of the system.”
Dukashe also noted an ongoing loss of talent from the Generations department, which he says was losing 37 employees a month out of 12,000 employees to layoffs and retirements. The rate was far higher than in previous years, he said.
“As you know, the best people go first. I’m concerned about the loss of experience of qualified individuals that will make our plant recovery more difficult,” he said.