Medupi and Kusile performing worse than some of Eskom's older power stations


The multi-billion rand mega power stations Eskom commissioned in 2007, Medupi and Kusile, should take a large portion of the blame for the power utility's failure to keep the country supplied with electricity.

Energy expert Chris Yelland notes that there are several issues with the two megaprojects that were initially designed as part of a series of undertakings intended to boost Eskom's generation capacity by roughly 50%. Chief among the problems is the fact that even when the incomplete stations are running, their production levels mirror or fall short of some of Eskom's oldest power plants, he said.

He likened this to buying a new car, and expecting it to run very well for 85% of the time that you own it - only to find that you bought a lemon, which runs acceptably just 60% of the time.

On Tuesday morning, various reports by Yelland and Business Maverick noted that neither Kusile nor Medupi were up and running.

"Bottom line is that these two mega projects are suffering from time and cost overruns, coupled with mistakes in the technical and design department which results in costing the country in terms of load shedding, and costing Eskom in terms of production costs," Yelland said.

"The reality is they [Medupi and Kusile] are performing worse than some of Eskom's older plants."

This has been echoed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who wrote in his weekly newsletter on Monday: "The problems with the construction of Medupi and its ‘twin’ Kusile account for much of the financial crisis at Eskom."

Medupi was due to be fully operational in 2013, and Kusile was due to follow a year later in 2014, at a total cost of around R165bn.

Instead, Medupi might be finished in 2021, while Kusile's completion date has been pushed to 2023.

According to Bloomberg, the total price tag has now shot up to R451bn - roughly the same as Eskom's total debt.

On Monday night, Eskom announced it would, for the first time, implement stage 6 rolling blackouts – which means electricity consumers would be subjected to more frequent power outages.

Stage 4, the previous highest level of load shedding, resulted in electricity being cut off to various parts of the country in 4.5-hour intervals.

Stage 6 means more areas are affected at the same time. And energy experts say the crisis may be far worse than feared.

Eskom downgraded load shedding back to stage 4 after 10pm on Monday.

Compounding Eskom's long-term woes is that it does not have the funds to conduct deep maintenance on its older power stations, Yelland explained.

Maintenance like this also required plants to be shut down for months, which Eskom cannot do at this stage, as it would cause even more blackouts.

"The reality is, it can't continue like this," Yelland said.

Eskom meanwhile, in a statement, apologised unreservedly to South Africans for the "inconvenience".

It said that implementing load shedding was the responsible course of action to prevent a total, national blackout. 

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