Good news! We’re almost there on Medupi

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown announced yesterday that Medupi’s unit six turbine is now running at optimum speed. General Manager of Medupi Power Station Roman Crookes joined Alec and Gugu on the line to the CNBC studio to share some updates on the situation.

Watch the interview on CNBC Africa here

We’ve just spoken to JSE-listed firm’s Chief Executive whose company is looking to initiate its own electricity supply. Does that come as a concern to you regarding the future supply of Medupi’s energy?

I think the announcement by the Minister certainly rang in a very positive step for Eskom and certainly, for Medupi.  We’re running our first turbine.  This is the first turbine that has been built since the last power station was built over 20 years ago.  We achieved 3000 rpm, which is a significant milestone in the commissioning process and it’s now to be followed by the last step, which is the electrical test on our generator.  This implies unit six, which is the first unit to start making electricity in the very near future – probably within the next few weeks.  To answer your question, I think it is important to Eskom.  It has an unlimited impact on South Africa from an energy growth point of view.  Medupi is certainly making itself felt within the next few weeks.

We saw this morning that the temporary conveyor belt into Majuba brought another 1800 megawatts to the grid. When will we see the first electricity actually hitting the grid and how much will it be?

Medupi is a 4800mw power station.  It’s the largest power station that Eskom will have in its entire production fleet when we finish building.  We’re building six units.  Each unit produces 800mw, so the first unit from unit from Medupi, which is unit six, will produce 800mw generated.  Typically, if one talks about synchronisation, synchronisation will occur within the next few weeks post these electrical tests now, and that implies that the first of those 800mw will slot into the national grid.  Within three to four months after synchronisation, we will hit the next point, which is what we refer to as full power. The moment we start synchronising, we will put available energy into the national grid, which will then be distributed throughout South Africa.  Over a period of three to four months, it will start to pick up from the first introduction of megawatts, up to full output – to our 800mw. The first machine will produce 800mw and that’s likely to be around May/June of this year.

When does the second, third, and fourth etcetera, kick in?

Typically, we’d want to finish this power station by 2019, so our target is to complete the remaining five units at that point.  Obviously, unit six is the one that we spent most of the time on, learning and developing all the facilities, so it’s almost like a firstborn. We then take those lessons, distribute them throughout Medupi, and then do the same for Kusile. With the first one being now and the last one in 2019, our schedule shows that unit five, which is the second unit, will flow towards the end of next year/early 2017.  You’ll then start to see the lessons coming faster and the units between the gaps starting to come down and that’s how we’ll end off, in 2019.

So it’s now just about ready to kick in, but we’ll start seeing some serious improvements in the grid, only from 2017 onwards?

Yes.  That’s when you’ll start to see the larger impact of Medupi (the second unit) and then obviously, Kusile starting to come on line as well so both power stations would be running nearly parallel.

Without becoming too technical, there were problems with the synchronisation. Was that caused through bad workmanship or did something else cause it?

That’s interesting.  If you look at Medupi as a construction project, we have experienced the entire fleet of technical, commercial, construction, and labour related challenges on this project so the delays we’ve seen have been cumulative, over a number of years. Some of them have been labour related, which obviously, has nothing to do with it from a construction quality point of view. Others have been quality related issues. We’ve had some fraud that’s been conducted on unit six, which resulted in significant criminal activities with appropriate investigations being done. Then we’ve had the last of these ‘boiler blow-through’ pipe issues on which, we’ve spent a considerable to technical time to ensure that the product we produce doesn’t put down machinery that we spent so long building, at any type of risk or in harm’s way.

Lots of lessons in putting together unit six and it’s just about there – May, this year.

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