Eleven years after the construction of the Eus massive 4800 MW coal-fueled power plant in the province of Mpumalanga, South Africa, none of the six 800 MW generators currently supply power to the grid.
The construction started in Kusile in 2008 and all six production units were scheduled to be commercialized by the end of 2014. However, the sad reality is that by the end of July 2019, five years after 2014, only Unit 1 in Kusile has been handed over for a commercial service.
While units 2 and 3 are in sync with the network, they are still being tested and commissioned and the devices are not yet in commercial service.
"It should be noted that only 1 block is in a commercial operation and blocks 2 and 3 are still in the process of commissioning after the first synchronization," Eskom Dikatso Mothae's deputy spokeswoman said yesterday.
Worse, however, there are serious design, implementation, and operational problems, and the three Kusile units are currently decommissioned for various reasons.
Regular inspection of Unit 1 recently discovered some defects in various areas of the plant that are being repaired now. The planned release date for Unit 1 is the second week of August 2019.
During the first week of July 2019, there was a fault event in the second block with regard to induced-draft fans after the return of the service unit from inspection and some minor repairs were made. The exact cause and recovery plan is currently under review.
Block 3 was suspended for inspection of coal mills and maintenance to continue with the commissioning and optimization of the plant prior to delivery for commercial operation. The expected return on service for Unit 3 is the end of August 2019.
Replacement parts are believed to be "mostly", but some facilities are "borrowed" by different artists.
"This plant facility is designed for Unit 6 but will be supplied by Eskom and supplied by different contractors before the 6th block is put into operation," Eskom said.
In simple words, some major spare parts are not available, but block 6 in Kusile will be removed for some spare parts needed for blocks 1, 2 and 3.
Similar problems are encountered at Eskom's Medupi power plant, which has the same design, plant and performers as Kusile, and is also under construction and works a few years later.
In Modules, units 6, 5, 4 and 3 are delivered for commercial servicing, and Unit 2 is in the process of commissioning as Unit 1 is in the process of being built. All units in Medupi had to be in commercial service by the end of 2013.
Some of the known problems in Medupi and Kusile are that the height of the boiler is too low for the slow-burning coal found in South Africa, resulting in a number of problems in the boiler's work.
It is also considered that coal mills are of a kind that leads to insufficient purity of ground coal. This again creates problems in the boilers, as well as excessive wear, maintenance and downtime of coal mills.
Excessive wear is also observed with fans that draw off flue gases and ash from boilers, through the fabric filter and the flue gas desulphurisation plant, and up the smoke stack.
The pulverized jet filtering installation, which extracts ash from the flue gases, does not function properly. The main contractor of the ash factory went into a business rescue, shut down his offices on the construction site, and removed all of the site's staff from the Medupi and Kusile sites.
Construction sites are also affected by legendary irregularities and public procurement fraud, and site management seems powerless in the face of inadequate skills, low productivity and objectivity of reunification. In fact, it is claimed that trade unions and trade union workers effectively control the construction sites.
The signs in question hang over Cusile whether the construction of Units 5 and 6 should continue, or Escom needs to reduce its losses and abandon further work on these units. It is clear that in order to determine the viability of the procedure, a comprehensive, independent case-by-case study may be required.
There are significant risks that Kusile can really become a premature white elephant and a blocked asset if the power cost level (LCOE) from the power plant makes it impossible for the plant to compete with cheaper, cleaner and more flexible options generating a competitive energy environment.
High LCOE would be the result of technical problems, low energy efficiency (EAF), reduced energy production, coal supply problems, water constraints and carbon taxes that are likely to increase over the coming years.
Eskom is about to announce its results on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, for the financial year ending March 31, 2019, with the lowest loss for the year expected to be about 25 billion R. This will do so – the largest loss of businesses and state-owned enterprises in the history of South Africa.
But with the enormous costs and excesses of time in Medupi and Kusile, as well as the responsibility to own power generators that generate expensive, dirty, high-carbon CO2, in a world that is moving into a low-carbon future, this loss in size R25 billion may look like peanuts when inevitable write-offs of unrealistic asset values arise.
It is said that Eskom is "too big to fail". However, the Eskom ship appears in excited seas, without a guide and no hands, while the group plays because the players have no idea what else to do to save the situation.