After 14 years of repairs and billions of rands, power utility Eskom has announced that the last of six generation units at Medupi power station in Lephalale, Limpopo, have finally been completed.
This means the project has reached commercial operation status, and has been handed over to the generation division.
The project, said to pump 4,764MW into the country’s embattled power grid when it reaches completion, was plagued by design defects, load shedding and billions worth of trial-and-error repair attempts.
The Medupi power station has a lifespan of 50 years.
All that remains is to implement technical solutions to boiler design defects, said to be completed within the next two years, Eskom capital division group executive Bheki Nxumalo said in a statement on Monday morning.
Only after the boiler design defects are ironed out can Medupi be relied on to supply electricity to the national grid, Nxumalo explained.
Medupi has cost R122 billion so far, with Eskom estimated to have spent just under R135 billion when the plant is completed.
At its peak, more than 18,000 people were employed to help build on the project, with 2,000 employees on site, with over 4,600 artisans, technicians, engineers and managers being formally trained.
“Unit 1 commercial operation is a historic milestone as it signifies the completion of construction for Medupi power station.
“This is an investment that will serve generations of the people of South African and power the economy for at least the next half century,” Nxumalo enthused.
It is not yet clear, however, whether Medupi’s long-awaited repairs will be enough to stave off load shedding.
SA’s renewable energy commitments
In President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2021 State of the Nation address, he warned that Eskom would still fall short of between 4,000 and 6,000 megawatts of power over the next five years, with older coal-fired power plants reaching the end of their lifespans.
There is also increased pressure on South Africa to increase reliance on renewable energy, with the country forming part of the international Paris Agreement. This means South Africa has committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions caused by fossil fuels such as coal.
Eskom is the country’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, but committed – in principle – to net zero emissions by 2050, and said it would up its renewable energy capacity.
With Medupi’s repairs said to make the plant operation over the next two years, this means the power plant will run until 2073.
Quick Medupi facts
When Medupi is completed, it will be the world’s fourth largest coal-fired plant, and the largest dry-cooled power station in the world.
Dry-cooling systems are implemented at the plant due to water scarcity in Limpopo.
This process involves keeping cooling water in a separate, closed circuit, where it is cooled through heat transfer rather than evaporation. It means the plant requires more than 90% less water to operate than a wet-cooled plant.
Dry-cooling technology operates similarly to water used in a car radiator. Heat is conducted from water to the metal of the radiator, with the air remaining dry as it does not come into contact with hot water.