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Apr 05, 2013

Medupi is a tragedy

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Anews flash! This is breaking news: “The British Conservative Party has announced that it has bought a 25% shareholding in Westfordhouse, of the US. Subsequent to the purchase, Westfordhouse announced that it had been awarded the turbine contract for the new power station to be located at Nulla Talis Locus, in Wales. The Conservative Party denies that it influenced the decision in any way. These are the first turbines supplied by Westfordhouse in the UK. The Conservative Party estimates that its income from the deal will be £5-million. All previous turbines have been supplied by General Engineering.”

Okay, I made that all up. Let’s face it, if the British Conservative Party behaved in such a way, it would be a long time before they got into power again.

But, how about a true story: “The African National Congress (ANC) has announced that it has bought a 25% shareholding in Hitachi, South Africa. Subsequent to the purchase Hitachi announced that it had been awarded the boiler contract for the new Eskom power station to be located at Medupi. The ANC denies that it influenced the decision in any way. These are the first Eskom boilers supplied by Hitachi in RSA. The ANC estimates that its income from the deal will be £5-million. All previous Eskom boilers have been supplied by Steinmuller.”

The Medupi power station is a tragedy. It’s bad enough that the boiler contract award smells like a Kalk Bay fishing boat on a quiet day. But it has now been found that there a are a few thousand bad welds on the Hitachi boilers under construction. How many more of the boilers are badly made? Which brave soul will start one up the first time?

Further, Business Day reports that the performance bond of the French company, Alstom, has been called up by Eskom since the Alstom boiler control software has failed tests. Three times. Fail once, okay. But twice? Careless. Three times? Who will trust the fourth version?

I spoke to an ex-Eskom guy.

Oh, he said, he’d been at Medupi. Too corrupt for him, he said. Medupi is six months behind. If it’s not working in December, lights out.

To (hopefully) fix things, Eskom is sending their outgoing CFO, Paul O’Flaherty, to head up a team, including some UK project managers, to get the whole project on track.

Girls and guys, you have more chance of successfully turning a camel into a mechanical engineer. Try, do try. But come December, you have to have an alternative plan. It’s Dunkirk time and you’re going to have to rely on smaller alternatives.

My advice: get all the municipalities to make a list of the consumers in their areas which can generate from standby power to reduce load. In the Cape, there is about 300 MW of standby generation; in Gauteng, much more and KwaZulu-Natal also much more.

Get the municipalities to sign contracts with all those willing to synchronise and generate into the grid on demand. Then, when Medupi is not on line, get those contracts to be activated during a few peak hours each day, by text message or email.

Also, load-shed large consumers willing to be cut. This works as follows: when the grid is overloaded, the system frequency drops. When it reaches about 49 Hz, the consumer is tripped out. Compensation is paid in reduced electrical supply tariffs. This system was common in the early 1980s.

Still more things to do by way of a plan: buy some big gas turbines (this is bit of a misnomer as these don’t actually run on gas – they run on gasified fuel, such as diesel or heavy fuel oil. You can get them second hand by the dozen. Put them together as standby plant.

Still more: get those municipalities that have gas turbines that are not operational to fix them, such as the Cape Town Roggebaai turbines.

Finally. If Eskom hopes to get the Kusile power station up and running, it should do itself a favour. Get the Germans to build the boilers and boiler controls, fire the French and don’t have the ruling party as a shareholding subcontractor.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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