Medupi coal power station project finally complete after six years delay

SOUTH AFRICAEskom’s Medupi coal power station in Lephalale, Limpopo has finally reached commercial operation six years after the first unit began supplying power to the grid, the sixth and last generating unit at Eskom’s Medupi.

It is the fourth-largest coal-fired plant and the largest dry-cooled power station in the world and has been beset by cost overruns and significant design issues that led to major delays in the project. Breakdowns of units had often contributed to the recent spate of load shedding. 

Eskom said in a statement that commercial operation on Unit 1 “marks the completion of all building activities on the 4,764MW project”. 

“This is an investment that will serve generations of the people of South Africa and power the economy for at least the next half-century,” Bheki Nxumalo, group executive for Eskom’s group capital division said in a statement. 

“What remains for the Medupi project is the last part of implementing the agreed technical solutions related to the boiler design defects on the balance of plant. Once these repairs are completed during the next 24 months, Medupi will reliably deliver power to the national grid at full capacity, helping increase energy security for the country,” said Bheki Nxumalo.

The station had an initial expected cost of R80 billion (US$5.5 billion), which was revised several times, reaching an estimated cost of R234 billion (US$16.1 billion) in 2019. 

In January 2020, South Africa’s  Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told Fin24 that South Africans are paying up to four times more for electricity than a decade ago – and that’s due to finance stealing and cost overruns at the Medupi and Kusile power stations.

“It’s because of tariff increases, and that’s to pay for Medupi and Kusile overruns, all the stealing that happened. It’s for all the extra you’re paying for coal and maintenance and to original equipment manufacturers etc. And it’s the ordinary citizen and the economy that’s paying the cost,” Gordhan told Fin24 in an interview.

“The commercial operation status means technical compliance to statutory; safety and legal requirements have all been met”

The commercial operation status means technical compliance to statutory; safety and legal requirements have all been met.

The unit was officially declared commercial after the completion of the unit optimization, control demonstration, as well as the 72-hour and 30-day reliability run, which have put all performance guarantees into effect.

Unit 1 was first synchronized to the national grid on August 27th, 2019 and reached the full load of 794MW on 5 December 5th, 2019.

During this testing and optimization phase, Unit 1 contributed intermittent power to the country’s electricity supply.

It was on August 23rd, 2015, when the first unit, Unit 6, attained commercial operation status.

Over the following six years four other units were built and brought to commercial status, providing electricity to the national grid.

The power plant incorporates supercritical technology, which is able to operate at higher temperatures than Eskom’s earlier generation of boilers and turbines.

The technology enables the power plant to operate with greater efficiency, resulting in better use of natural resources such as water and coal and will result in improved environmental performance.

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