South African state-owned electricity provider Eskom had a nightmarish start to the year.
Only four days into 2020, rolling blackouts resumed despite an assurance that load-shedding would not take place before 14 January. Its board chairperson resigned a week later.
The power utility has struggled to keep its promises to consumers, but does it stick to the facts?
In the company overview page on its website, Eskom claims to generate “approximately 95% of the electricity used in South Africa and approximately 45% of the electricity used in Africa”.
We checked if the numbers were accurate.
Claim: Eskom generates approximately 95% of the electricity used in South Africa
Before electricity can be delivered to the consumer, other forms of energy must first be converted into electrical energy. This process is known as electricity generation.
For example, coal is carried on conveyor belts into Eskom’s coal-fired power stations. It is crushed into a fine powder and burned to make high-pressure steam. This steam drives large turbines, which drive generators that generate electricity.
Not all electricity generated is available for consumption. Most of it is sold and consumed locally or internationally. But some electricity is used during the generation process or lost during transmission and distribution.
Figures come from Stats SA
We asked Eskom for the source of the claim that it generates 95% of electricity used in South Africa. The media desk referred us to one of Eskom’s latest reports covering the period 2012 to 2018.
“You will note that we now refer to ‘more than 90% of electricity in South Africa’,” the media desk said.
But the 95% figure can still be found on Eskom’s website, on government pages and in several online news articles. And up until recently, it was also the figure used in Eskom’s Twitter bio.
Both numbers we’re checking in this report were removed from the Twitter account after Africa Check asked Eskom for the sources of its claims.
Eskom’s media desk told Africa Check that the 90% figure comes from Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), the country’s data agency, and asked that we direct our query to them.
Eskom produced 90% of electricity consumed in South Africa
Stats SA conducts a monthly survey that gathers information on the volume of electricity units generated and distributed by all producers and Eskom.
“It is possible to calculate Eskom’s percentage of generation and distribution from the data published in the release,” Nicolai Claassen, director of industry statistics at Stats SA, told Africa Check. However, off-grid and self-generation is excluded from the report, Claassen said.
According to preliminary numbers in the latest release, for November 2019, 18,280 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity were delivered to South Africa’s provinces. Claassen said these numbers indicate consumption as electricity cannot be stored and used later.
So how much did Eskom supply? Claassen said that 16,380 GWh came from the power utility. This works out to 90%.
The balance is made up of electricity from private producers and contributions from the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, Claassen said.
We rate the claim as mostly correct.
Claim: Eskom generates … approximately 45% of the electricity used in Africa.
Aside from saying that the 45% was a “historical figure”, Eskom failed to provide any information to support its claim.
Our first step was to determine how much Eskom electricity was consumed in Africa in a year.
On the advice of Prof Anton Eberhard, director of the Power Futures Lab of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, we used the “total external sales” number in Eskom’s 2019 integrated report as a proxy for consumption. According to the report, Eskom sold 208,319 GWh of electricity to customers from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019.
The majority (94%) of this was local sales, with the remainder being sold internationally.
If Eskom’s claim is correct, it would mean that 462,931 GWh were consumed in Africa – 208319 GWh is 45% of this number. The available data does not reflect this, however.
Energy data ‘not perfect’
Data on electricity use in Africa is limited.
The African Union’s African Energy Commission (Afrec) attributes the lack of “perfect” energy data for the continent to factors such as that “most African countries” don’t have reliable energy databases “due to limited capacities, competencies and understanding of their importance”.
The commission, which is tasked with setting up a continental energy database, relies in part on data provided by the International Energy Agency.
The agency’s latest Africa Energy Outlook report estimated electricity use on the continent to be 700,000 GWh in 2018, based on data provided by countries.
The report says the IEA estimates data for 25 countries in Africa for which individual data is not available. This includes Réunion, which is a French overseas territory.
The intergovernmental organisation works to “ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 30 member countries and beyond”. (Note: South Africa is an IEA association country.)
Hartmut Winkler, professor in the department of physics at the University of Johannesburg, pointed out that the 700,000 GWh excludes electricity generated for self-use. “Examples would be a mine generating its own electricity from self-purchased diesel, or even a solar panel used for domestic electricity supplementation.” He said that, due to this, the figure may be slightly higher.
Winkler considers the IEA to be an “authoritative” source. “I think it would be highly unlikely that any other credible independent study would come to a vastly different conclusion,” he said.
About 30% of estimated electricity used in Africa came from Eskom
In 2018/19, Eskom sold 208,319 GWh of electricity for consumption. This made up close to 30% of the estimated amount of electricity used in Africa in 2018 (700,000 GWh). The claim is therefore incorrect.
Note: If the electricity (18,699 GWh) Eskom bought from independent power producers (IPPs) and neighbouring countries in 2018/19 is taken into account, the 30% number would be even lower. While Eskom generated the bulk of the electricity it supplied to customers, it did not generate all of it, said Eberhard, as the electricity provider buys and resells some electricity.
Researched by Cayley Clifford and Liesl Pretorius, Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website