The Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, has made an undertaking to return South Africa's largest power plant to service sooner than expected in a bid to end load shedding.
Ramokgopa on Friday said that Eskom was implementing interventions that would speed up the repairs to Unit 4 at the Medupi power station.
The unit was taken off-line for repairs in August 2021 following an explosion that caused extensive damage during a short-term outage for maintenance.
It was initially expected to return to service in August 2024, adding about 2 000MW of generating capacity to the system.
Eskom is currently implementing the worst bout of power cuts, moving between Stage 4 and Stage 6 load shedding, on a daily basis due to constraints to generation capacity.
When fully operational, Medupi will be the fourth largest coal power station in the world, with each of its six units producing 720MW and mitigating four stages of load shedding.
Ramokgopa said Eskom’s group executive for generation, Bheki Nxumalo, had hit the ground running in getting some of the utility’s units back online as quickly as possible.
“We are working very closely to return Unit 4 in Medupi that was taken off-line in August 2021,” Ramokgopa said.
“Bheki there, working with the competent team at Medupi, has found an accelerated path to get that unit up and running, and with those initiatives, we feel that we should be getting back that unit much earlier than expected.”
Ramokgopa was briefing the media on Friday on the national Energy Action Plan and the gains made by the National Energy Crisis Committee.
He added that the repairs that were taking place on the three units at Kusile would also be completed by December since an expedited solution had been investigated.
In February, Eskom estimated that it would take at least a year to fix after the Unit 1 flue duct (chimney) collapsed in October last year due to a build-up of slurry.
The failure at Unit 1 subsequently affected units 2 and 3 as the ducts for all these three units were welded together.
However, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy in March granted Eskom an exemption from certain requirements in terms of its application to build temporary stacks at Kusile.
Ramokgopa said the expedited return of Kusile units 1, 2 and 3 would add more than 2 100 W to the grid, further alleviating pressure on the power system and reducing load shedding by almost two stages.
“We are also making progress in returning the three units at Kusile. As you know, the time-lines that Eskom has shared with us is that those three units that were discontinued as a result of the compromised structural integrity of the chimney should be back by December this year, and that is 2100MW,” he said.
Meanwhile, Eskom warned that the winter season over the next 150 days would be “very difficult” as electricity demand was expected to increase to between 32 000MW to 37 000MW, but interventions were already underway.
Nxumalo said Eskom’s generation recovery plan, which had been approved by the board, was geared towards improving the Energy Availability Factor from 56% achieved at the end of the 2023 financial year to 60% by the end of the 2024 financial year.
However, Nxumalo said this would be challenging since generation capacity was constrained by outages at Kusile and Unit 1 at Koeberg Nuclear power station, which was taken off-line late last year for maintenance and steam generator replacement to extend its lifespan for another 20 years.
“It’s going to be a very difficult and tough winter with all those units at Kusile and Koeberg (Nuclear Station) off. But we will come back with comprehensive plans once we have gone through the internal process,” Nxumalo said.
“We are going through this winter without a unit at Koeberg, which is something that is a first for us in generation, but is also a commitment we have to deal with issues of long-term operation of Koeberg.”
Eskom’s System Operator has started preparing South Africa’s load shedding code of practice to extend beyond Stage 8.
The new code of practice, which provides municipalities with directives on how electrical load must be shared, will be submitted to South Africa’s energy regulator in the next few days for approval.