Eskom can’t beat its coal plant problems – Expert

Energy expert at EE Business Intelligence Chris Yelland told the City Press that the best case scenario for Eskom is that it stabilises the current, low level of coal-fired power station performance.

The country’s Integrated Resource Plan aims to develop Eskom’s power stations to offer over 70% availability; however this has regularly dipped below 60% in 2021, and Yelland doesn’t believe Eskom can raise its coal plant availability to meet its goals.

“Eskom can’t win,” said Yelland.

“It can, at most, mark time.”

“You can keep driving an old vehicle forever if you treat it like a baby, but we need tools.”

Yelland said repairs to the troubled Medupi plant have not made a sufficient difference, and he doubted whether Medupi and Kusile will ever be properly fixed.

He used Medupi’s Unit 3 as an example, as it was the first unit at the plant to be “fixed,” but Yelland explained that when it has been active, it has been running at 75% availability, rather than the expected 90%.

Load-shedding isn’t going anywhere

Yelland previously speculated that Eskom is overwhelmed by its issues.

This followed a press conference by Eskom CEO Andre De Ruyter where he warned that South Africa faces an electricity shortfall of 4,000MW for the next five years.

“I did not sense optimism that they were on top of things. Rather, I sensed that the problems were so endemic that they are becoming overwhelming,” said Yelland.

2020 saw the worst load-shedding in the country’s history despite demand being lower as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This trend is expected to continue in 2021, and will likely result in even more load-shedding this year than last.

Load-shedding from 2007 to 2020
Load-shedding from 2007 to 2020

Powerships a solution?

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe recently unveiled three Karpowership projects for the country.

Each of these powerships will be situated at coastal towns – Coega, Richards Bay, and Saldanha – and are expected to provide a total of 1,200MW to the grid.

The necessary liquified natural gas will be sourced internationally and delivered via other ships as South Africa does not have this gas naturally.

The gas is channeled into generators on the powerships, and this produces electricity that can be fed directly into the country’s transmission network.

These powerships comprise three of eight preferred bidders announced by Mantashe to form the country’s emergency risk mitigation IPP programme.

The other five projects are as follows:

  • ACWA Power Project DAO
  • Mulilo Total Coega
  • Mulilo Total Hydra Storage
  • Oya Energy Hybrid Facility
  • Umoyilanga Energy

These, combined with the powerships, are expected to produce 1,845MW of energy.

Mantashe also said the first bidding round to eventually acquire a further 11,813MW from IPPs has opened.

The first round targets 2,600MW from wind and solar, with the following still to come in future rounds:

  • 2,600MW from renewable energy.
  • 3,000MW from gas.
  • 1,500MW from coal.
  • 513MW from battery storage.

Now read: How South Africa’s new powerships will work to fight load-shedding

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Eskom can’t beat its coal plant problems – Expert