Eskom pollution skyrockets

Ageing equipment and poor coal quality caused Eskom’s coal fleet emissions to skyrocket over the last year – from 0.40kg/MWh to 1.01kg/MWh at the end of June 2023. 

Data released by the National Treasury revealed that 17 of Eskom’s units are non-compliant with average monthly emission limits, threatening their continued operation.

“Eskom’s relative particulate emissions performance has deteriorated further to 1.01 kg/MWh sent out,” it said.

It is substantially worse than the target and a significant increase in emissions from June 2022, when Eskom sent out 0.40 kg/MWh.

In 2021, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) showed that Eskom became the world’s largest emitter of health-harming sulfur dioxide.

More recently, CREA said air pollution from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants risks killing 79,500 people from 2025 until they are due to be shut down.

The study highlighted that many of Eskom’s coal-fired power plants breach South African emission standards.

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) said if Eskom is allowed to continue as is, emissions from the company’s fleet will cost thousands of lives.

Daily Investor reached out to Eskom for details regarding the spike in emissions from its coal-fired power plants. 

Eskom said the elevated emissions from power stations are primarily due to ageing emission abatement equipment that has operated beyond their midlife refurbishment, poor coal quality, and insufficient maintenance.  

Eskom has installed technologies such as Pulsed Jet Fabric Filters, Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP, High-Frequency Power Supplies (HFPS), and Sulphur dioxide conditioning (SO2) plants to reduce particulate emissions. 

This achieved a 75% reduction in particulate emissions between 1982 and 2023.  However, in recent years, the operating effectiveness of these technologies has been negatively impacted.

This is due to late investments and system constraints, which negatively influence the time available to effect large-scale upgrades and maintenance of the emission abatement equipment.  

Power stations and their associated emission abatement technologies are designed for specified coal qualities.  

When power stations like Matla and Tutuka receive coal outside of the design specification, the ash plant cannot manage the increased ash burden.

This leads to ash build-up in the abatement equipment, significantly impacting the ability of the equipment to remove dust from the flue gas. 

Several projects are underway to reduce the emissions from Eskom’s power stations, with projects in execution at Kendal, Lethabo, Duvha and Matla. 

Most of these projects will be completed before March 2025.


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