Half of Eskom’s Kusile power plant is now operational

Eskom has announced that unit 3 of its Kusile power station has achieved commercial operation status – signalling that half the project’s operational capacity is now online.

The power station is now generating a maximum 2,400MW to support the South African power grid, it said.

“Bringing the 800MW unit to commercial status means construction activity has come to an end on half the project,” Eskom said.

“The milestone follows two years of rigorous testing and optimisation since the unit was first synchronised into the national grid in April 2019.”

It also marks the contractual handover of the unit from the principal contractors under the group capital build project unit to the generation division, the power utility said.

“Bringing this unit to commercial operation is a major milestone for Eskom and the employees involved in the project, who are working hard to ensure Eskom fulfils its promise of bringing stability to the power system,” said Bheki Nxumalo, Eskom’s group executive for Capital Projects.

“The construction, testing and optimisation activities on the remaining three units, some of which are currently providing intermittent power to support the grid, are progressing well.”

Commercial operation status is conferred on generation units that have met the requirements for full technical, statutory, safety and legal compliance.

Massive delay

Kusile was announced in 2007, with construction starting in 2008 on an estimated budget of R70 billion. The project was expected to fully completed within six to ten years, with Eskom at one point saying that all six units would be commercially operational by 2017.

The start dates and completion targets have shifted several times over the years, but now, 14 years later, the project is half done, with costs ballooning to well over R200 billion, taking capitalised interest into account.

Unit one of the station achieved commercial operation in 2017, with unit two following in October 2020. The project has been hit with several delays due to labour and technical issues, including defects in design and supplied components.

Eskom said it is committed to completing the station by 2023.

“Eskom is proud of its team at Kusile who have delivered this third unit with extreme dedication, and working under challenging conditions during periods of load shedding and the Covid-19 restrictions.

“Over the years, the team has worked hard for long hours together with execution partners to ensure that testing activities are done thoroughly and successfully.”

Kusile is the first power station in South Africa to use wet flue gas desulphurisation (WFGD) technology. WFGD is the current state-of-the-art technology used to remove oxides of sulphur (SOx), for example, sulphur dioxide (SO2), from the exhaust flue gas in power plants that burn coal or oil.

Eskom said it is fitting WFGD to the Kusile plant as an atmospheric emission abatement technology, in line with current international practice, to ensure compliance with air quality standards and its commitments to some of the funders of the project.

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Half of Eskom’s Kusile power plant is now operational