SA massive coal plant fails to address power shortage

Wednesday August 11 2021
African National Congress supporters

African National Congress supporters march against South African power supplier ESKOM’s power cuts in 2015 in Soweto. PHOTO | AFP


South Africa still faces loadshedding despite the world's largest dry-cooled power station, the Medupi Power Station in Lephalale Limpopo, having achieved commercial operation status on July 31, 2021 in what marked the end of its construction.

Medupi is the fourth-largest coal-fired power station, and although it has taken 14 years to be completed design flaws were found to cause frequent breakdown of units occasioning the rampant loadshedding in recent years.

Some repairs need to take place for the next two years before all units are declared ready for uninterrupted power generation.

One unit is currently off at Medupi while electricity generation capacity has also been held back by similar issues at its sister power plant, Kusile Power Station in Mpumalanga.

“We have identified a number of defects at units based at Medupi and Kusile,” said Eskom chief executive officer Andre de Ruyter in a TV interview on Wednesday.

“We have already commenced doing consecutive 75 days outages on all of those units to address the defects. Not all of those have been fully and satisfactorily resolved, but we are now in a position where we understand what the challenges are and we are working with the contractor under the contractual guarantee to address and resolve these remaining design defects.”


The switching off of each unit for 75 days sees inadequate power supply which leads to persistent loadshedding.

In recent years, electricity tariffs have been escalating in South Africa amid Eskom swimming in a rand 400 billion debt.

Also old infrastructure at Eskom’s other troubled power stations could see Medupi fighting to make up for stifled generation capacity at the ageing plants.

After initially being scheduled to be signed off in 2014, the completion of this coal-fired power plant was delayed by seven years.

The Medupi plant has an installed capacity of 4.764MW after initially being designed to generate 2.400MW.

“This is an investment that will serve generations of the people of South Africa and power the economy for at least the next half-century,” Bheki Nxumalo, the executive for group capital division at Eskom, South Africa’s power utility firm.

“What remains for the Medupi project is the last part of implementing the agreed technical solutions related to the boiler design defects on the balance of plant. Once these repairs are completed during the next 24 months, Medupi will reliably deliver power to the national grid at full capacity, helping increase energy security for the country.


The end of construction also comes six years after it started supplying power to the national grid.

Limited electricity supply continues to be felt not only in households but in industries especially manufacturing.

Abdulrahim Assad, a Somali businessman based in Krugersdorp said he had out stock worth thousands of rand due to a power outage that lasted two weeks in his area.

Assad, who sells fresh produce, meat and other dairy products, suffered major losses after having to throw away the stale, rotten and fermented foodstuffs.

“As a father and husband to my family back in Somalia, I am devastated by the power cuts we’ve had for the past weeks, I’ve had to make means to survive and keep my business running,” the 42-year-old told Nation.

With power outages expected to continue for the next two years, the economy is bracing up to further struggle.

“Loadshedding and a decline in the supply of water contributed to the contraction in the electricity, gas and water supply industry,” Statistics South Africa, the country’s research and statistics agency noted in a recent report this year.

The Medupi Power Station was initially expected to be an R80 billion [$5.53 billion] project but due to cost overruns, thanks to the design flaws, it ended up reaching an estimated cost of R234 billion ($16 billion) in 2019 picked up from added costs and contractual obligations for delayed work.

Mr de Ruyter, however, insists the cost rose to R122 billion ($8.43 billion). Besides the design issues leading to the cost overruns, they are also pointed to as the major cause for delays in finishing up this project mired by controversy.

The African National Congress (ANC) is sucked into this as having a hand in the delays. It had acquired a 25 percent stake in Hitachi Africa in 2005.