Engineering and environmental consulting company SSI is in charge of the integration of the Medupi power plant into the electricity network and the power delivery, a project which carries a R15-million contract for the consultancy, says SSI's Industrial group manager, Eric Tshwele.
He explains that Eskom established a number of panels comprising local and international experts to assist it with the construction of the utility's new power stations and generation capacity expansion projects.
SSI is part of a joint venture (JV), which submitted bids to Eskom and was appointed a member of Eskom's Panel B. The company primarily carries out the project and construction management of transmission assignments for the utility. Tshwele explains that internal Eskom engineers have designed the current projects, but SSI hopes to be involved in the design of future power generation projects.
The company is project managing the establishment the Medupi power station high voltage yard, where the station generators discharge power into the electricity grid. It also manages the related subprojects. Currently, the project construction of the high-voltage yard is taking place.
Tshwele comments that this is the first time that consultants have been appointed by Eskom, at national transmission grid level, to manage the construction based on Eskom's internal designs. He says the projection execution methodology has been reasonably smooth up until now.
Tshwele says that prior to Medupi, SSI's JV assisted Eskom to design the latest pumped storage scheme, Ingula, in the Drakensberg, which is currently under construction.
"SSI is also working with Eskom on other parts of the transmission network. In the Lowveld area there are several network strengthening projects that the company is carrying out," says Tshwele.
Besides Eskom's large generation projects, SSI also carries out other portfolios for Eskom in the lower level distribution sector. Tshwele comments that these are ongoing projects in most regions, including the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and surrounding areas, as well as KwaZulu-Natal.
Most of these projects involve the design and construction management of several substation and overhead lines for the power utility.
Tshwele comments that the global financial crisis has affected Eskom's ability to raise funds, but this has been balanced by the decreased demand in electricity, and therefore, the decreased urgency of building the infrastructure projects.
"Eskom will now prioritise and carry out the most pressing projects first," says Tshwele.
Tshwele comments that, while SSI is not involved in renewable energy projects on a large scale, the company was involved in the latest bidding for a wind farm project in the Western Cape. He adds that there are not many large-scale renewable energy projects, besides those relating to hydropower, or pump storage, such as Ingula.
"Renewable energy is not a significant alternative at national grid level, as it is most suitable in the electricity grid at lower voltage level," explains Tshwele.
SSI aims to become a one-stop-shop for electric energy projects, supplying the generation plant, the water services, the hydraulics, the transmission lines and the necessary integration.
Tshwele says that the company is bringing in power generation specialists to provide engineering services for Eskom's requirements.
The company is also looking to provide power generation services to the rest of Africa.
SSI has experienced constant renewal and growth over the past five years and Tshwele says that this, as well as the wide range of services that the consultancy offers, has buffered some of the effects of the global economic crisis.
"By honing in on customer service and the specialised services the company provides, SSI can survive the current difficult economic situation.
Tshwele comments that every time a power station is built, it has to be integrated into the power network, which results in a family of projects associated with every power station that will be built. He adds that SSI hopes to take part in many future power station projects and continue its association with Eskom.
He adds that energy delivery is currently very topical and that there are additional opportunities for SSI to be involved in future regional electricity distributors and independent power producers.
"The energy industry is poised to take off, but it is still hindered by many backlogs in the legislation and regulation of the market by government. The energy market is still largely legislated and not free in the truest sense," says Tshwele.
He concludes that, unfortunately, before any significant project can be carried out by a private entity, a family of regulations need updating.