Ramaphosa goes on defensive about Eskom diesel generators

  • South Africa’s President says that Eskom is not leaning on its expensive diesel-fired generators to ‘keep the lights on.’
  • Several media are alleging that the ANC-led government is spending more on diesel as a political ploy to curry favour ahead of the May general elections.
  • Even a conservative usage of the generators is extremely expensive, with Eskom spending over R1 billion on diesel in the first three weeks of April.

In his usual open letter posted to social media on Monday morning, President Cyril Ramaphosa has gone on the defensive about Eskom’s recent use of open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs), huge diesel-powered generators that the utility switches on to bolster its ailing fleet’s electricity generating potential.

“Against all the available evidence, some people have claimed that the reduced load shedding is a political ploy ahead of the elections. Some have speculated that there is less load shedding because Eskom is using the diesel-fuelled peaking plants to ‘keep the lights on’ in the run-up to the elections,” the president writes in the letter.

Both Ramaphosa and Eskom have denied allegations made by the media that Eskom is secretly burning more diesel at its OCGTs to converse the over month and a half loadshedding reprieve South Africans have been enjoying, the longest stretch of sustained electricity South Africans have had since December 2021.

“Eskom is actually using these peaking plants at a much lower rate than the last two years. For example, last month Eskom spent more than half as much on diesel as it did in April 2023,” Ramaphosa explained, adding that allegations were “not borne out of facts.”

However, even a conservative usage of OCGTs is extremely expensive. For example, in March 2024 which had just 26 days with limited loadshedding, Eskom showed it spent R3.1 billion on running OCGTs.

A BizNews report outlines the spending at Eskom to run OCGTs in recent months, and specifically in April when the loadshedding-free period began in earnest. In the first three weeks of April, the utility spent R1.35 billion on diesel for its peak generators.

The report assumes that if OCGT usage is about the same during all of April as it was during the first three weeks, Eskom would have spent R1.74 billion up to R2.21 billion on diesel. This is still less than the R3.1 billion spent in April 2023 which had no loadshedding-free days.

It seems then, the situation is not that Eskom is using the OCGTs to ‘keep the lights on’ and instead using them a bit less to make sure the lights stay on, as several improvements at Eskom over the last two years have reduced the need for heavier loadshedding schedules.

While the president says that it is still too early to rule out loadshedding never returning, Eskom has seen improvements thanks to a number of initiatives started in 2022 as part of the Energy Action Plan.

These include increased maintenance at Eskom’s fleet of power stations, supporting rooftop solar energy, procurement of new capacity, and removing more red tape so that private companies can invest in the energy mix. Finally, many of these initiatives are starting to show dividends, Eskom officials and now Ramaphosa are claiming.

Unfortunately for the ANC-led government, they have started to show success a month before the most hotly-contested national elections since 1994, and two years of soul-crushing and economy-sinking routine blackouts.

[Image – CC BY-ND 2.0 GovernmentZA on Flickr]


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