The first of six units of the Medupi power station should be contributing power to the national grid by the middle of 2015, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown told Parliament last month.
Brown was speaking during a Parliamentary debate on Eskom. She told MPs that the country faced the challenge of having to build new multibillion-rand power generation stations.
“Keeping the lights on is no ordinary feat. In the period up until 1994, the previous government only connected 5.2-million households to the grid. Since 1994, an additional 7-million households have been connected to the grid. This means that 85% of the population now has electricity in their homes,” she elaborated.
Brown added that the challenges encountered by State-owned power utility Eskom are often a result of power stations needing to be serviced regularly.She adds: “Like cars, they need servicing from time to time. What this means is that when we service a power station, for that period, we have less electricity available.”
Citing the collapse of a coal silo at Majuba power station, in Mpumalanga, which resulted in Eskom rolling out load-shedding, Brown added that, even with regular service, the power utility also faces the challenge of “unexpected breakdowns”, which result in the power grid being strained.
She detailed that the Medupi power station, in Lephalale, Limpopo, and the Kusile power station, in Mpumalanga, were being built to ensure that the country had constant power even during times when the utility was conducting regular maintenance on its facilities.
“Admittedly, some of the inter-national contractors who were hired to build crucial parts of the new power stations let us down and we lost many months as we tried to rectify their mistakes. Further, almost a year was lost as a result of work stoppages because of strikes. As a result, we are running between three and four years behind,” she stated.
Brown highlighted that government started constructing the two stations “later than [government] should have”, adding that Eskom lacked the crucial skills required to manage and oversee the construction of the two giant power stations when the construction started.
Brown further told Parliament that the strained power supply was likely to continue for about two more years, adding that the situation would look up from 2018
Brown added that the country faced the challenge of “the so-called coal cliff”. South Africa needed about four-billion tons of coal to sustain power supply between now and 2050 and Brown confirmed that, in the short to medium term, not all of that had been secured, even though the country had sufficient coal reserves.
She told Parliament that Eskom officials and power generation experts were working on finding the best solution to get the required coal.