Mpumalanga's Kusile power station should have relieved South Africa's energy generation pressures in 2013. However, a decade later it finds itself among the causes of the country's crippling winter energy woes.
Last week Eskom, delivering its winter outlook presentation, placed Kusile, one of the world's largest coalfired power stations, at the centre of the bleak energy generation situation that could bring about stage 8 loadshedding during winter.
The unavailability of three power generation units at Kusile and one at Koeberg nuclear station in the Western Cape were cited by Eskom at a winter outlook briefing at Megawatt Park as the main reasons the power utility may struggle to keep the lights on this winter.
Kusile's three completed and synchronised units — 1, 2 and 3 — have been out of service since late last year, effectively denying the country more than 2,000MW of power while contributing at least two stages of loadshedding.
Eskom executive for generation Bheki Nxumalo said even when Kusile's three units come back on stream around December it will be a temporary solution and would still not be operated at full capacity.
The unavailability of Kusile units 1, 2 and 3 as well as Koeberg unit 1 has already removed 3,080MW of energy capacity from the country's power system for winter 2023, Eskom indicated this week.
The only operational unit at Kusile, unit 4, had for weeks been unable to be used at its full capacity of 800MW and was expected to be back in July, according to Nxumalo.
Kusile's unit 5, which will provide 720MW, is only expected to be synchronised to the grid in December, which is around the period when Eskom only expects loadshedding to drastically subside.
Kusile, which means dawn in several Nguni languages, was meant to be a gamechanger. However, the power station — which was initially scheduled to be completed in 2013 — has been rocked by delays, cost overruns, corruption and design defects.
Kusile has never worked particularly well. If we took all the electricity Kusile produced so far relative to all the money that has been spent, it's probably producing electricity at R8 or R9 per kilowatt hour on average to date.
Clyde Mallinson, independent energy analyst
Nxumalo said they needed government support to get environmental exemptions for the three units at Kusile to operate at full capacity relying on temporary stack.
Independent energy analyst Clyde Mallinson believes Kusile and Medupi, which are huge power stations, should have never been pursued in the first place.
"They [government] should have maybe done three or four 2,000MW [power stations] instead of doing the biggest and the best," Mallinson said.
Mallinson said there were so many reasons Kusile is "a disaster", including not meeting its build deadline, being faulty and skyrocketing costs.
He said South Africa was "looking at the symptoms now of the whole string of wrong decisions and egos culminating in a disaster".
"Kusile has never worked particularly well. If we took all the electricity Kusile produced so far relative to all the money that has been spent, it's probably producing electricity at R8 or R9 per kilowatt hour on average to date," Mallinson said.
Situated near eMalahleni, in the coalrich part of the country, with a massive 4,800MW design capacity, Kusile would be one of the world's biggest coalpowered stations.
A poorly designed and built chimney at Kusile's unit 1 collapsed in October, immediately affecting units 2 and 3 of the Mpumalanga power station, which share the same chimney.
Nxumalo said a permanent solution would be completed only next winter, which would be the only time Kusile units would be able to generate power at full capacity.
Energy expert Lundile Mashele said Kusile, which has been "equipped with flue gas desulphurisation", was meant to be a flagship coal project. However, from planning stage it has been rocked by many mishaps and delays, coupled by severe time and cost overruns, design challenges and corrupt management.
"Management failure led to the collapsing of the flue gas duct. Eskom management went against the operational recommendations of their engineer, who said despite the air heater fire, the three units should be run at a reduced output," she said.
The Sunday Times reported in February how Eskom management went against the recommendation, leading to the flue gas duct collapsing.
The R161bn Kusile power station was initially budgeted at R81bn, but the costs have since doubled, with former deputy president David Mabuza saying they were confident that it would be completed within its revised budget.
The station's units 5 and 6 were expected to be brought online in December and May next year.
Kusile is now only expected to be fully operational by winter next year.
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