The coal play: Eskom power stations that can put a stop to loadshedding

South Africa’s electricity minister, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, has identified Hendrina, Tutuka, and Kusile power stations as the country’s best opportunity to eliminate load-shedding. The power stations have an installed capacity of 8,854 MW, which is equivalent to eight load-shedding stages. Eskom has recently toured the power stations and engaged with their management to understand their issues better. Ramokgopa identified Tutuka as the second most problematic power station plagued with corruption, and Kusile as the worst-performing power station due to technical and structural problems. Ramokgopa aims to have all three power stations running optimally, eliminating three load-shedding stages by the end of the year. Read more below.

These three Eskom power stations could end load-shedding

By Bianke Neethling

Electricity Minister Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said Eskom’s Hendrina, Tutuka and Kusile power stations present the best opportunity to take South Africa out of load-shedding.

The minister said this during a tour of power stations in Mpumalanga as part of his “power station roadshow”. He toured the power stations and engaged with their management to better understand their problems.

“We have everything within our arsenal to resolve load-shedding,” he said.

Given the power stations’ energy availability factor (EAF), Hendrina, Tutuka, and Kusile are Eskom’s best hope to eliminate load-shedding.

Cumulatively, the three power stations have an installed capacity of 8,854MW (excluding Kusile’s Units 5 and 6 which are yet to be operational). This is equivalent to eight load-shedding stages.

Below is an overview of the current state of each power station and the viability of improving their EAF.

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Hendrina Power Station

Hendrina is one of South Africa’s oldest operating power stations, having come into operation in the 1970s. It is also one of the smallest stations in the coal fleet.

It has ten 200MW units installed and, therefore, has the capacity to produce 2,000MW of electricity.

However, the electricity minister said Hendrina is in a “very, very difficult state”, as at least four units are currently out of operation.

According to Eskom statistics from earlier this year, Hendrina recorded the worst EAF of Eskom’s 14 coal-fired power stations. Hendrina’s average output is 197MW, making its EAF 17.9%.

Ramokgopa said it would require “elevated effort” to improve Hendrina’s performance and return its units to operation.

He said Eskom is working with the station’s management and thinks they “could be in a position to extract as many megawatts as possible”.

At the end of last year, Eskom announced its plans to decommission and repurpose three of its coal-fired power plants, including Hendrina.

This plan forms part of the utility’s Just Energy Transition Strategy to shift toward green energy. It involves fully shutting down seven power stations within the next ten years.

The Hendrina power station in Mpumalanga is the oldest operating in the country. Energy analyst Mike Rossouw believes stations like Hendrina should be shut down as Eskom workers and money would be more effectively used elsewhere.

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Tutuka Power Station

Tutuka was commissioned in 1985, and its last unit went online in July 1990.

It has six units capable of producing 609MW each and, therefore, has a total installed capacity of 3,654MW.

However, it is one of Eskom’s worst-performing power stations, with an average output of 1,170MW.

Ramokgopa has identified Tutuka as Eskom’s second most problematic power station, coming in just after Kusile, which has yet to become fully operational.

He said Tutuka is plagued with two significant problems â€” poor quality coal and procurement irregularities related to corruption.

For years, Tutuka has been riddled with corruption that has affected its output, cost the country millions, and intensified the electricity crisis.

At the end of last year, Eskom reported that Tutuka’s EAF was 28%. However, former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter has said that Tutuka has an EAF closer to 15%.

Both figures show a significant decrease from the station’s performance just a few years ago when it boasted an EAF of 75%.

Despite Tutuka’s problems, the electricity minister has hope that all six of its units could be “up and running” by the end of April. This would restore 3,000MW to the grid and eliminate three load-shedding stages.

Kusile Power Station

Kusile is expected to be one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants, with a plan to have six units and a total installed capacity of 4,800MW.

Construction on Kusile started in 2008 and was expected to take around six years to complete. However, its first unit only came into operation in 2017, and its fourth only reached commercial operation last year.

The last two units — Units 5 and 6 — have not been commercially operational.

Kusile has been riddled with problems that have postponed its full commercial operation dates numerous times.

Ramokgopa has identified Kusile as Eskom’s worst-performing power station.

The former Eskom CEO said in an interview with eNCA that an allegedly corrupt tender awarded to Hitachi Power Africa is to blame for Kusile’s poor performance.

He said a R38 billion tender given to Hitachi to provide Kusile and Medupi Power Station with boiler units resulted in three of Kusile’s four units being taken offline.

Ramokgopa has dismissed De Ruyter’s claim that corruption is to blame, attributing Kusile’s poor performance to technical and structural problems at the power station.

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Regardless of the reason, three units are still out of operation at Kusile, and the power station has an average output of only 713MW — an EAF of 24.7%.

Ramokgopa intends to have the three out-of-operation units and Unit 5 in operation by the end of the year. This would add 3,200MW capacity to the grid, eliminating three load-shedding stages.

Kusile was recently granted an environmental exemption allowing the power station to operate without a damaged component needed to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions.

Ramokgopa told eNCA that this exemption would enable Eskom to return the out-of-operation units to the grid before the end of the year.

Kusile power station flue ducts

A version of this article was first published by Daily Investor and is republished with permission.

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