South Africa

Eskom is collapsing

Last month, a section of the Kusile Unit 1 flue gas duct failed on the horizontal rubber expansion joint and the compensator.

Eskom said it is likely that the unit will be offline for months. “The duration shall become clearer over the next few weeks,” it said.

“Consultations with stakeholders, including the Original Equipment Manufacturer, are in progress to determine the best course of action to restore the plant as quickly as possible.”

Unit 2 was off load at the time, and as a precautionary measure, its return to service has been put on hold.

According to sources who spoke to Rapport, the cause is poor management of the system and a lack of proper maintenance.

If skilled employees performed their duties properly, the problem could have been prevented, the sources said.

The latest disaster at Kusile is not an isolated event. Explosions, fires, and collapsing infrastructure at Eskom’s power plants are the norm rather than the exception.

In August 2021, a devastating explosion destroyed unit 4 at Medupi after a blunder by the power plant’s staff created a volatile mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.

It will cost R2.5 billion to fix the unit, and it is only expected to be back online in August 2024.

In September 2022, a fire at a gas air heater at one of the generating units at Kusile that has not been synchronised to the grid caused significant damage.

The damage caused by the fire delayed bringing the new 800MW generation unit at Kusile online for a year.

The three units at Medupi and Kusile, which are offline, equate to level 3 load-shedding without any quick fixes.

These events are the tip of the iceberg. Numerous other infrastructure problems occurred at Eskom power stations in recent years:

  • September 2020 – A conveyor belt that feeds coal into the Medupi generation units snapped, which dumped the country into load-shedding.
  • September 2021 – A fire broke out at the Kendal power station, damaging one unit.
  • October 2021 – Eskom said Tutuka is in a shocking state, with heaps of ash covering walkways, plants, and instruments needed to operate.
  • November 2021 – A distribution-line tower providing power to the coal conveyor system at the Lethabo power station collapsed because of sabotage.
  • March 2022 – Eskom lost 920 MW of power when a Koeberg nuclear power station worker cut the wrong valve.
  • May 2022 – A cable at the Tutuka power station was severed while it was finalising preparations to return unit 5 to service.
  • May 2022 – The control air pipe supplying the turbine systems at Tutuka had been cut with a power tool, and the entire bend was removed.
  • June 2022 – A fire broke out at unit 2 of the Duvha power station, which has been offline for a general overhaul.
  • August 2022 – There are numerous delays in returning Koeberg unit 2 to service because of problems during its refuelling and maintenance work.
  • September 2022 – A conveyor belt that moves coal from the Kriel mine to the adjacent Eskom power station caught fire.
  • September 2022 – The Camden Power Station was taken offline after a senior technician ‘opened the wrong valve’ and contaminated the plant’s demineralised water supply.
  • October 2022 – The wrong oil was added to a unit at the Duvha power station, which caused a fire and delayed returning the unit to service.

These are only a few of the numerous problems Eskom is experiencing at its power stations.

Eskom has been blaming its ageing power fleet for problems and breakdowns. However, none of these problems is related to age.

Most of these problems occurred at Eskom’s newest power stations and were caused by human error, poor planning, and a lack of skills.

The result is that Eskom’s energy availability factor (EAF) – the percentage of its fleet producing electricity relative to its maximum generating capacity – has plummeted.

The declining EAF is the reason South Africans have been experiencing the worst bouts of load-shedding the country has ever seen.


Top JSE indices