South Africa

Eskom’s coal power stations to miss performance target

South Africa’s state power utility will miss a target to boost output from struggling coal-fired plants by the end of March, highlighting the poor state of equipment whose viability is being reviewed by German energy consultants.

Eskom, which is subjecting South Africa to its worst-ever electricity outages, told lawmakers in January it planned to increase production from six struggling facilities by 1,862 megawatts by the end of March.

That would be enough to meet the needs of South Africa’s second-biggest city of Cape Town, where peak demand in winter is 1,800 megawatts.

That goal “will not be achieved,” the Johannesburg-based company said in an emailed response to questions.

Eskom’s 14 coal plants regularly break down, exacerbating rotational power cuts of as long as 12 hours a day that are crimping economic growth.

The National Treasury announced last month that it’s hired a consortium of consultants to review the fleet and determine which ones can be revived to original equipment manufacturers’ standards.

Eskom is expected to implement the group’s recommendations to access R254 billion of debt relief from the government over the next three years.

The consultants will be led by vgbe energy e.V., a Germany-based technical association of energy-plant operators in 34 countries.

“The services provided by vgbe energy and its partners include a review of all coal-fired power plants with regard to performance, operation, and maintenance, as well as a skill assessment and advice on operational improvements,” the group said in a response to queries

The consortium includes RWE Technology International GmbH, STEAG GmbH, KWS Energy Knowledge eG, and Dornier Power and Heat GmbH. They are expected to complete the assessment by mid-year.

Elections Looming

South Africa is scrambling to ease power outages with just over a year to go before the country holds general elections.

The governing African National Congress, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, is facing a loss of support over its failure to deliver basic services and opinion polls show it risks losing its national majority.

While rules have been changed to allow more, mainly renewable, power plants to be built by private companies, the immediate focus is to improve the performance of the coal plants, which supply more than 80% of South Africa’s electricity.

In the next financial year, Eskom has said it will aim to boost generation by another 3,115 megawatts.

Eskom’s broader generation recovery plan includes improving the performance of all its coal-fired power stations. Six plants were selected initially because it was anticipated that repairing those facilities would have the biggest effect, the utility said.

Mineral Resources & Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe last month said that fixing the nation’s power plants should be prioritized.

There are coal-fired units that have been shut that may be brought online again, though that would take time, according to Eskom.

“Indications are that, for most of these units, return to service would take at least two years,” it said.


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