Eskom unaware of issues that threaten stage 13 load-shedding in South Africa

Eskom has said it is unaware of the issues with water treatment plants at several of its coal-fired power stations. If the plants fail, 13,000 MW will go offline, plunging the country into severe load-shedding. 

Eskom’s senior manager in the generation office, Eric Shunmagum, said Eskom could not agree with certain aspects of the report in a media briefing alongside Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. 

The group of German engineers with extensive experience running coal-fired power plants spent four and a half months studying South Africa’s ailing power utility and compiled a report at the behest of the National Treasury. 

They went through Eskom’s coal fleet, plant by plant, to determine what changes the utility should make to improve the performance of the individual stations. 

The VGBE team also outlined why South Africans can expect load-shedding and problems at Eskom to get worse as the utility’s plants reach the end of their design life. 

Of particular concern to the experts was the poor state of many of Eskom’s water treatment plants at some of its largest power stations. 

For example, the Medupi and Matimba power stations share the raw water treatment plant, which is filling into disrepair and is unable to supply both stations at full capacity. 

The engineers said this plant urgently requires maintenance and upgrading, at the very least. If the existing plant fails, 12 units with 9,800 MW of capacity would go offline. 

Moreover, the current water supply is insufficient to install the wet flue gas desulphurisation plant that needs to be built for the Medupi and Matimba sites by 2025.

The water treatment plant at Kendal is also in very poor condition and needs urgent maintenance and refurbishment. If that plant fails, six units – 3,840 MW of capacity– would be offline. 

This means that if these ailing water treatment plants fail, 13,640 MW of generation would go offline – resulting in a record high stage 13 load-shedding in South Africa. 

According to Shunmagum, Medupi and Matimba do not share a water treatment plant.

“We have had various engagements with the Treasury and VGBE. While we embrace the suggestions, there are some inaccuracies in the report which have been reported to the Treasury and VGBE,” he said.

He also said the utility was unaware of any urgent maintenance work needed for their water treatment plants, which placed the power stations at risk of shutdown.

Shunmagum said they were aware of challenges with water treatment at Kendal and that these were being addressed.

He would not elaborate on what other inaccuracies Eskom found in the VGBE report but said the utility was putting together a detailed response to “communicate some of the issues” to VGBE and Treasury.

“Eskom will put together a holistic response to highlight issues. Some of the content needs to be corrected.”


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