South Africa opens first power station in 20 years


After 20 years without building a power plant, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has opened another plant in order to end the country’s energy crisis. This development comes after the President had in August 11 said that power cuts were the country’s biggest challenge.

Although the energy crisis has not been fully resolved it is a sigh of relief for South Africa’s embattled utility company, Eskom which has been struggling with power supply shortages since 2008. The company’s crisis became worse last year after old power assets started malfunctioning. During this period, the government introduced a strategy of rolling power outages on a rotating schedule, known as load shedding in order to ease the pressure on the grid and to prevent it from collapsing.

South Africa’s economy has been affected greatly by the crisis due to inflated business operational expenses, which has also led to some companies downsizing.

Whitey Basson, chief executive of Shoprite, South Africa’s largest supermarket chain, said that R8 million ($650,000) was spent in December 2014 alone to run existing diesel generators. New generators accounted for another R160 million ($13m).

Why was the Medupi power plant built?

In order to solve South Africa’s electricity crisis, in 2007, Eskom decided to build a dry cooled coal fired power station called the Medupi Power Station. It was initially conceived to be a three unit power station which will produce a total 2400MW at R32 billion but was later changed to a six unit power station to produce 4800MW at R105 billion. There are speculations that the plant will cost more than the government had budgeted. The country has received funds from international organizations to fund this project.

In 2008, South Africa received $500 million facility for the project from the African Development Bank. Later in 2010, the country received $3.75 billion from World Bank for several energy projects with $3.05 billion being allotted for the completion of the Medupi power station.

The first unit of the power plant is now producing 794 megawatts (MW) running at the optimum speed of 3000 revolutions per minute. The unit came online this week after delays due to series of strikes, technical issues and cost overruns. Eskom has been training a core set of people on how to use the technology that makes Medupi unique.

Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona said, “Approximately 350 men and women are waiting to join the force of South Africans making history when the unit gets operational. While unit 6 is the first of Medupi’s six units, it should be noted that all required auxiliary services for the entire power station are ready to ensure that Medupi’s total output of 4 764MW is fully synchronised to the South African power grid.”

This first unit of Medupi’s started contributing power during its synchronisation period from March 2 2015 and the whole plant is expected to be operational by the first half of 2019. It is also going to contribute about one-eighth of South Africa’s total electricity capacity.

According to the South African government, once the plant is completed it would be the fourth-largest coal-fired plant and the largest dry-cooled power station in the world. The plant should be operational for 50 years.

On another hand, South Africa’s government is looking to introduce 9,600MW of nuclear energy of about $100 billion by 2030 in order to reduce reliance on the coal-fired power plant.

The 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum, revealed that most African countries are even worse off than South Africa in terms of electricity supply. These countries include Nigeria at 141, Botswana at 127, Mozambique at 108 and Morocco at 48.

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