Eskom CEO: Higher risk of load shedding in 2020 – as 32km of boiler tubing removed from Medupi unit

Business Insider SA
Google Earth imagery.
Medupi. Source: Google Earth
  • Eskom's CEO warns that there is a higher risk of load shedding in the next year, until the end of winter 2021.
  • The utility is currently fixing design flaws at its brand new Kusile and Medupi plants, which - among other "enormous" changes, involves removing kilometres of boiler tubing at each unit.
  • The new plants were not designed to take into account the properties of the local coal. 
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While Eskom avoided load shedding on Thursday – after warning of high risk - its CEO warned that load shedding will be likelier over the next year.

“There is increased risk of load shedding the next twelve months,” André de Ruyter said in an interview with The Money Show on 702 and Cape Talk on Thursday evening.

He said that the company has to do urgent “reliability maintenance” at its older power stations, which means they will have to be offline for long stretches of time - otherwise the risk of load shedding will only increase in coming years.

“The time to fix is now. The system is old, it suffers from a lack of predictability.” The average age of Eskom's coal-fired power stations (excluding Medupi and Kusile) is 38 years.

The maintenance on these plants should be completed by the end of winter in 2021.

But that’s not the only problem. On Tuesday, a unit at the brand-new Medupi tripped.

“It is disappointing to see the performance of this new plant,” De Ruyter says.

Eskom has started to fix the design flaws at all twelve units of Medupi and Kusile (six each). It costs R300 million to fix one unit, and also means that each unit is out of action for more than four months. Units 3 and 6 at Medupi have now been modified.

Fixing the design flaws involves "enormous" changes to each unit, including the removal of 32km of boiler tubing, says De Ruyter. The existing boilers malfunction because they burn too hot.

He says the boilers did not take into account the properties of the coal that is being mined by Exxaro’s Grootegeluk mine for the plant.

Boiler problems have caused the power stations to malfunction in the past – and it usually takes a long time to fix, because repair work can only start when boilers have cooled down, which can take days.

De Ruyter said South Africa was in too much of a hurry when the new plants were commissioned. “We took an off-the-shelf design and are now paying the price in terms of a plant not suited to coal that is available for it to burn.”

He says Eskom is in negotiations with contractors. “We are obviously trying to do the best we can to recover some of the money.”

Earlier this week, Eskom said that construction companies ABB South Africa, Stefanutti Stocks and Basil Read Joint Venture, as well as Tubular Construction Projects benefited from overpayments totalling R4 billion in the construction of Kusile power station.

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