Kusile has been a significant failure for South Africa, as the power station has been responsible for several stages of load-shedding over the years and has come at a substantial cost to the country.
This is the view of energy analyst Chris Yelland in light of the news that Kusile’s Unit 5 was synchronised to the country’s grid for the first time on 31 December 2023.
Eskom announced that the unit would contribute an additional 800 MW to the country’s power system, which was never part of the utility’s grid capacity.
It will supply electricity intermittently during the testing and optimisation phase over the next six months before being transferred into commercial operation, and the capacity officially added to the current Eskom fleet.
“As part of the Generation Recovery Plan, the synchronisation of Kusile Unit 5 marks another significant milestone of sustainably improving our generation performance. This will contribute the much-needed power to the grid,” said Eskom Group Executive for Generations Bheki Nxumalo.
“We are encouraged that this achievement of our recovery plan immediately follows the return of the three units that were brought online from end-September 2023, bringing a total of 3,200 MW into the grid, which will further improve the energy availability factor (EAF) and help strengthen South Africa’s electricity capacity.”
However, Yelland said this unit’s synchronisation comes only after an investment of R233 billion and 15 years of construction.
Plans to construct the new mega coal-fired power station started around 2005 as part of a proposal to address South Africa’s looming energy crisis.
Kusile was designed to consist of six 800 MW coal-fired generating units which could deliver a combined 4,800 megawatts.
Construction started in August 2008 and was initially expected to take six years to complete at a cost of R81 billion.
However, widespread corruption, mismanagement, and worker unrest have caused numerous delays and cost overruns.
It is now 15 years after construction on the power station started, and only four of its units are in commercial service.
The cost of the project has also ballooned to R233.4 billion. Combined with Medupi’s cost overruns, it has basically bankrupted Eskom.
Yelland said that while Unit 5 is finally synchronised to the grid, “we should not forget that it is still not in commercial operation, with 2 to 3 times cost capital cost overrun, 8 years late, with Unit 6 still not synchronised to the grid”.
“As such. Kusile has been responsible for several stages of load-shedding for years, at a truly massive cost to the economy. In short, Kusile has been a huge failure for South Africa.”
Energy analyst Hilton Trollip said Eskom should be congratulated on the synchronisation of Unit 5.
However, while this progress is welcomed, “the bigger picture is that this unit represents less than 2% of the total Eskom fleet”.
Currently, accounting for planned and unplanned outages, just under 50% of the units in Eskom’s fleet are offline.
“This is one of the main reasons that we have load-shedding – because this coal fleet is old and unreliable.”
Kusile Unit 5 is also the first substantial new capacity that has been added to the grid in 2 years.
“And quite simply, to get rid of load-shedding, we have to add a lot more new capacity to the grid as soon as possible.”