Real reason behind South Africa’s electricity mess

The real reason why South Africans are facing rolling blackouts is the delay in bringing the new Medupi and Kusile power stations online. This is according to energy expert Chris Yelland.

Speaking to Fin24, Yelland said that the tightness of Eskom’s electricity capacity is caused by the delay in bringing the Medupi and Kusile power stations online.

These two coal-fired power stations can each produce 4,800 megawatts of electricity, which can relieve the pressure on South Africa’s power grid.

“The reality is that these two power stations are running four years late,” said Yelland. “By October 2013 we should have had the entire Medupi power station generating into the grid. We don’t have that.”

“The first Medupi unit is only going to deliver power in the middle of 2015, so things are running seriously late,” he said.

As a result of these delays Eskom also had to reduce its standard power station maintenance regime.

“Eskom simply does not have sufficient capacity to allow it to do proper maintenance,” said Yelland. This, in turn, increases the risk of failures at operational power stations.

The collapse of a coal storage silo at Eskom’s Majuba power station in Mpumalanga was merely the straw which broke the camel’s back, said Yelland.

“We hope that there are no other unforeseen incidents, because if there are the country is in serious trouble,” said Yelland.

Yelland pointed out that while there is a decline in electricity demand in South Africa, Eskom’s electricity generation is declining even faster. “We are in trouble. It is hurting the economy and it is constraining growth,” said Yelland.

No short-term solutions to Eskom’s problems

Yelland added that there are no short-term solutions to Eskom’s electricity problems. “The solution is more generation capacity to feed a growing economy. That is what we need, and that is what we don’t have” said Yelland.

“We need to get the Medupi and Kusile power stations online as fast as possible.”

Yelland said that Medupi is only going to be fully operational by 2018, and Kusile one year later.

He added that until these new power stations come online, South Africans will have to use less electricity.

Using less electricity has many negative consequences, including slower economic development and higher electricity prices.

“The less electricity we use in South Africa, the higher the price of electricity has to be to pay for Eskom’s fixed overheads and infrastructure,” Yelland explained.

Yelland said that we are currently stuck in a downward spiral which we need to break, which can only be achieved by improving Eskom’s electricity generation performance.

Medupi and Kusile power stations

Yelland wrote that ongoing delays in the construction of the Medupi Power Station – caused by faulty welds and poor instrument and control software – moved the first operational date out by a minimum of 4 years.

The final Medupi completion date, initially planned for 31 October 2013, was pushed back to 30 June 2018.

“The soonest we can expect to actually have the full 4,800 MW from Medupi is mid-2018 – eleven years after the project was announced, at a cost of three times the original budget,” said Yelland.

Kusile is no different, with its initial completion date of 31 October 2014 pushed back to 30 June 2018.

The following dates with regards to the Medupi and Kusile power stations were provided by Yelland to illustrate the initial Eskom plans, and the reality.

Medupi Power Station
Medupi Power Station
Kusile Power Station
Kusile Power Station

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Real reason behind South Africa’s electricity mess