Eskom’s pollution disaster – over 8,000 MW at risk of shutdown

Eskom’s emissions performance has continued its sharp decline, reaching 0.92kg of particulate matter sent out per MWh of electricity produced – double the level seen last year. 

This was revealed in the utility’s interim results for the six months to the end of September 2023, where Eskom admitted that the “relative particular emissions performance has continued to deteriorate and is significantly worse than the target.”

Eskom placed most of the blame on Kendal, Kriel, and Matla power stations. These three stations contribute almost half of the total particulate matter emissions of the utility’s entire fleet. 

At the end of September, 14 units across Eskom’s fleet were operating in non-compliance with average monthly emissions limits – placing 8,588 MW at risk of being shut down. 

Eskom said it continues to engage with the National Environmental Consultative and Advisory Forum regarding its Minimum Emissions Standards appeals. 

The forum’s engagements have been extended until August 2024. 

This forum will make a recommendation to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, after which Minister Barbara Creecy will rule on the appeals. 

While Eskom’s engagements with the forum continue, it said that its power stations will operate under the existing conditions. 

However, Eskom’s emissions performance is a slight improvement compared to the levels seen in June. 

Data released by the National Treasury revealed that Eskom’s coal fleet emissions skyrocketed over the last year – from 0.40kg/MWh to 1.01kg/MWh at the end of June 2023. 

The data also showed that 17 of Eskom’s units are non-compliant with average monthly emission limits, threatening their continued operation at the end of June. 

Despite this small improvement from the end of June, Eskom’s emissions are still significantly worse than targeted levels and severely impacted communities near its power stations. 

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 previously reached out to Eskom regarding the sharp deterioration in its emissions performance. 

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 associated emission abatement technologies are designed for specified coal qualities.  

When power stations like Matla and Tutuka receive coal outside 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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