A sharp difference of opinion has emerged between Hitachi Power Africa and Steinmüller Africa over whether Hitachi can rightfully appropriate as ‘references' the 20 000-MWe of boiler technology that has been installed in South Africa over the last number of decades.
The dispute arose following an article published in Engineering News in which Hitachi Power Africa MD Robin Duff sought to clarify its relationship with Eskom and with Chancellor House, its 25% black economic empowerment partner, which is said to have strong ties to the ruling African National Congress.
Duff defended the relationship with Chancellor House, after leading national weekly the Mail & Guardian raised questions about whether the link played any role in the November 13 award by Eskom of a R20-billion boiler contract to a consortium comprising Hitachi Power Africa and Hitachi Power Europe (Germany). The contract for the Lephalale facility was, in fact, the biggest in Eskom's history and could well be followed by a similar sized contract for ‘Project Bravo', to be built nearly simultaneously at a site near Emalahleni, in Mpumalanga.
In his clarification, Duff noted that, while it was Hitachi Power Africa's first material contract with Eskom, the company's relationship spanned many decades, given that the installed boiler technology was now under the ownership of Hitachi.
He explained: "Through a series of mergers and acquisitions (Steinmüller was bought by Babcock Borsig in 1999 and the Energy Division of Babcock Borsig was bought by Hitachi in 2003), Hitachi Power is now the owner of all the know-how and references of the former L&C Steinmüller Group, which includes Majuba, Tutuka, Duvha and Kriel boilers, as well as the majority of the boilers installed at Sasol, which were engineered and supplied by Deutsche Babcock. Hitachi Power thus has a local boiler reference base of close to 20 000 MWe."
But this is disputed by Steinmüller Africa MD Hermann Brummer, who, in a letter to Engineering News, asserts the following: "While it is true that Hitachi Power Europe, with its subsidiary Hitachi Power Africa, a new entrant in the South African market, acquired the know-how as a result of the acquisitions referred to, ownership of know-how cannot be considered a sufficient basis for a claim of ‘references'."
Brummer stressed, too, that Steinmüller Africa has been responsible for the supply, erection and commissioning of the entire boiler island for most of Eskom's coal-fired stations. "As the original equipment manufacturer of these plants, Steinmuller Africa in fact has the ‘local boiler reference base of close to 20 000 MWe," he adds.
It was confirmed by both Brummer and Duff that there is no relationship between Hitachi Power and Steinmüller, with Hitachi Power owned by Hitachi Ltd, of Japan, and Steinmüller by Babcock Borsig Services, a subsidiary of Bilfinger & Berger, Germany.
It also emerged that Steinmüller Africa has participated in competing consortia for the Medupi contract, with Steinmuller having been part of the joint bid with Alstom, which eventually won the R13-billion turbine contract for the R78,6-billion Medupi power plant.
However, in a response to Engineering News questions Duff continued to assert that Hitachi Power Africa had a right to claim the references.
Duff elaborates: "The former L & C Steinmüller (LCS), Germany, engineered the 20 000 MW of Eskom's installed fleet in question. LCS's subsidiary, Steinmüller Africa, handled project management and local manufacture of the LCS scope. Steinmuller Construction, a subsidiary of Steinmuller Africa, did the erection of the boilers. At no time did Steinmuller Africa design any Eskom boilers and therefore is not the owner of any know-how or references."
He adds that "at most" Steinmüller Africa has the right to use the built documentation from the LCS boilers constructed in the 1970's and 1980's and "nothing more".
It should be stressed, though, that Steinmüller Africa did not call into question the integrity of the Eskom tender process for Medupi, with Brummer emphasising its continued strong relations with Eskom and a desire to maintain and strengthen that relationship.
"Steinmüller recently re-established its fabrication facilities and continues to be a competitive player in the new capacity build market, while remaining committed to meeting Eskom's plant maintenance and enhancement requirements," Brummer stresses.
However, it is also interesting to note that Hitachi Power Africa selected construction and engineering group Murray & Roberts as its partner for the structural steel fabrication and erection, as well as mechanical installation works for the Medupi boiler package. Murray & Roberts has stated that the contract for the six 800-MW units are valued at about R 7-billion over a period of seven years.