SA remains dependent on apartheid-era power stations, while Kusile, Medupi stall
Government has boasted of connecting 6 million families to a grid powered by decades-old power stations, which may explain why they keep failing.
An aerial view of the long overdue Medupi power station. Image: iStock
When the Kusile and Medupi power stations were first announced in 2007, South Africans heaved a collective sigh of relief, as the stations were expected to relieve the country’s load shedding crisis, which was in its infancy at the time.
The plants were commissioned as the first new major power builds following democracy, and were expected to be completed by 2015, at a cost of R163 billion. Each station was expected to add 4800MW to the national grid.
As we all know by now, this was not to be, and neither of the two power stations have been completed to date.
The project is now eight years overdue, and more than R300 billion over budget, while it is expected that design flaws, which require extensive rectification, means completion can only be expected around 2024.
Medupi was for a very short period deemed to have been completed, but a gas explosion in August of 2021 took out the plant’s unit 4 generator, taking it offline till at least 2023, and requiring another R2 billion.
Also Read: Inside Eskom’s Medupi hydrogen explosion
In 2018, a forensic investigation into the flaws at the two power stations uncovered several design and technical flaws which contributed to not only the delays in completion, but also the instability of the power stations’ generating units which were already in operation.
These flaws meant that Medupi and Kusile had 84 and 66 generating unit trips respectively in the 2018/2019 financial year.
Engineering News at the time summarised the flaws discovered as the following:
- The boiler spray systems being unable to cope, owing to a design that has resulted in higher-than-expected temperatures at the reheater.
- Excessive wearing of fabric filter plant bags, which is resulting in ash blockages, trips, load losses and emissions-related losses.
- The milling plants at Medupi are failing to meet technical requirements, which has halved the time between servicing intervals, negatively affected coal quality and has resulted in partial load losses.
- The gas air heater performance and fouling is not meeting technical requirements.
- Problems with the dust handling plant, which is leading to high ash accumulation, leaks and more frequent maintenance, which is resulting in a lack of spare parts.
- Hardware failures on the distributed control system at two Medupi units is leading to trips,
- And high vibrations on the generator auxiliary cooling loop.
ANC scored off SA’s power woes
Despite the massive cost overruns and flaws in the two power stations, there is one group that benefitted handsomely from the projects.
In 2015, the US Securities and Exchange Commission entered into a $19 million settlement with Hitachi, which scored the tender for the construction of the two plants’ boilers.
The settlement agreement revealed how Hitachi landed the $5,6 billion contract, while partnering with the ANC’s investment front Chancellor House Holdings, which made a 5000% return on its investment into the plants that never worked properly.
So, while only two parties seemed to benefit from the massive projects, South Africa’s load shedding woes continue to this day, and the country remains mainly dependent on power stations which were constructed decades ago, during National Party Rule, despite government’s boasts of connecting more than 6.7 million new households to the grid by 2016.
The age of these power stations, and the fact that many have long since passed their sell-by dates, may explain why our lights keep getting switched off.
Where is Eskom’s power currently coming from?
Tutuka: First unit went commercial in 1985 and the last unit in 1990. This power station consists of six 609MW units, at an installed capacity of 3 654MW.
Matla: Was commissioned in 1983 and has six 600MW units installed at a capacity of 3 600MW.
Matimba: Has six 665MW units installed at a capacity of 3 990MW and was commissioned between 1988 and 1993.
Majuba: Construction started in 1983 and by April of 1996, the first unit was connected to the grid. The last unit was commissioned in April 2001. Majuba is the second largest power plant with an installed capacity of 4 110MW.
Lethabo: Construction started in 1980 and it comprises of six 618MW production units.
Kriel: Was completed in 1979 and was the largest coal-fired power station in the southern hemisphere.
In July of 2022, the entire power station tripped and according to Eskom, the first fault caused unit 1, 2 and 3 to trip while the second fault tripped units 4 and 5. Unit 6 was already offline at the time.
The power station consists of six units each generating 500MW at an installed capacity of 2 850MW.
Komati: The first unit was commissioned in 1961 and the last in 1966. In 1988, three units were mothballed, with one kept in reserve and the other five were only operated during peak hours.
In 1990, the entire station was mothballed until 2008 and unit 9 was the first to be recommissioned under Eskom’s return to service project.
The entire power station was put online in 2011.
It has six 686MW units at an installed capacity of 4 116MW.
Kendal: Was built between 1982 and 1993 with the first unit going online in 1988.
On completion in 1993, it became the world’s largest indirect dry-cooled power station.
It has 10 200MW units installed at a capacity of 2 000MW.
Hendrina: Came into operation between June 1970 and December 1976.
Between 1995 and 1997 half of Hendrina’s 10 units were refurbished and the other half between 1999 and 2001.
It has 10 200MW units installed at a capacity of 2 000MW.
Grootvlei: The first of six units was commissioned in 1969.
In 1989, three units were mothballed and in 1990 then other three followed.
Due to the power crisis being experienced in South Africa, Eskom decided to return the station to service and by 2008, three of Grootvlei’s units were back online, providing 585MW to the national grid.
It has six 200MW units at an installed capacity of 1 200MW.
Duvha: Construction started in 1975 with the last unit coming into operation in 1984.
Camden: Was commissioned in 1967 and between 1990 and 2006, the station was mothballed but the country’s energy crisis in the early 21st century prompted Eskom to recommission the station, starting with unit 6 in 2005 before completing with unit 1 in 2008.
Arnot: Construction started in 1968 and this generating unit went online in 1971 with the rest of the station fully operational by 1975.
Between 1992 and 1997, three of its units were mothballed due Eskom’s surplus generating capacity but were brought back online in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
It has six 350MW units at an installed capacity of 2 100MW.