As load shedding returns, here's why getting Kusile fully online is crucial

Business Insider SA
  • As Eskom continues to battle with unplanned outages, bringing the Kusile coal-fired power station online is more important than ever.
  • Construction on the controversial Mpumalanga-based power plant started more than a decade ago.
  • To date, Eskom has only managed to bring unit 1 (720MW) of 6 units into commercial operation.
  • Further "bonus" energy is supplied by units 2 and 3, which are synchronised to the grid but not officially at full production.
  • For more stories go to

As load shedding returned on Thursday, bringing the controversial Kusile online is more important than ever to stabilising South Africa’s energy grid.

Construction on the controversial Mpumalanga based power plant started as far back as 2008. Back then it was pegged as an ambitious mega-project that would boost South Africa’s electrical generation capacity by 4,800MW, enough to contribute 10% of Eskom’s required capacity – by the end of 2014.

To date Eskom has only managed to bring unit 1 (720MW) of 6 units into commercial operation. Further "bonus" energy is supplied by units 2 and 3, which are synchronised to the grid. Combined with a third non-commercial unit at Medupi they contribute between 1,100MW and 1,900MW of additional power to the system, reported Fin24.

But Kusile is only expected to be finally completed in 2023, 9 years behind schedule.

Here is what you should know about the troubled Kusile:

Kusile is a Ndebele and Siswati word meaning the dawn has come". 

Source: Google Maps.
Source: Google Maps.

The Kusile power station is located near the Kendal power station, in the Nkangala district of Mpumalanga.

Kusile is the first Eskom project to implement flue gas desulphurization (FGD).

The FGD is a state-of-the-art technology used to remove oxides of sulphur, such as sulphur dioxide, from exhaust flue gases in power plants that burn coal or oil.

Ultimately FGD is meant to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by at least 90% by reacting it with a limestone sorbent.

Both Medupi and Kusile are super-critical coal fired power stations, which means they should be more efficient than the current fleet of coal-fired power stations.

Source: Google Earth.
Source: Google Earth.

According to Eskom the two new stations should be able to produce more electricity with less coal and water.

Despite being the newest members of Eskom’s fleet, the department of public enterprises found Medupi and Kusile were only achieving 40% reliability, back in January 2019. 

The main civil works contract, worth R2.9 billion, was awarded to Kusile Civil Works joint venture in 2008.

Construction companies, including Stefanutti Stocks, Group 5, Basil Read and WBHO Construction, were part of the joint venture.

Unit 1 went live in August 2017

Source: Google Earth.
Source: Google Earth.

The operational life of the power station is expected to be 60 years.

Kuseli has run billion of rands over budget. 

Originally Medupi and Kusile were both expected to cost a total of R163 billion.

Cost estimates for Kusile were then put at around R118.5 billion back in January 2015excluding interest during construction, and inflation.

Then in 2019, Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, told the portfolio committee on public enterprises that the costs of Medupi and Kusile had increased by more than R300 billion. This put the cost at R161.4 billion for Kusile, Mail & Guardian reported. 

Chris Yelland, energy expert and managing director of EE Publishers, put that same total at a conservative R239 billion for Kusile. 

Bloomberg’s Paul Burkhardt and Michael Cohen reported in October 2019, that Medupi and Kusile's cost has now ballooned up to R451 billion - roughly the same as Eskom's total debt.

Kusile is embroiled in corruption allegations, most recently around a CSI project.

In 2015, Eskom reported that Kusile had spent more than R100 million on corporate social investment (CSI) projects as well as having spent more than R6.2 billion developing 604 companies in the Mpumalanga area.

According to Daily Mavericks’ investigative unit Scorpio, significant portions of these projects have gone missing, including almost R2 million donated from listed construction firm Stefanutti Stocks which was meant for school project in Limpopo but ended up in Eskom officials' hands. 

Scorpio also reported that Kusile contractors Tenova Mining and Minerals, Esor Construction, Tubular Construction, and Stefanutti Stocks paid R75 million to a little known company called Babinatlou Business Services, and that its bank account was used as a slush fund to enrich top Eskom officials. 

Separately, two former Eskom executives and two business directors were arrested late in 2019 over a dodgy contract. 

If Eskom can stick to its schedule, this is how power will come online from the two new giant power stations:

Department of Public Enterprises, April 2019.
Source Eskom Update given by Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises, April 2019.

Medupi Unit 1 commercialisation in May 2020 – 720MW.

Kusile Unit 2 commercialisation August 2020 – 800MW.

Kusile Unit 4 in March 2021 – 800MW.

Kusile Unit 5 in November 2021 – 800MW.

Kusile Unit 6 in September 2022 – 800MW.

*Source Eskom Update given by Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises, April 2019

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