As of Monday, 15 September, Eskom will be counting down from a 100 days to the synchronisation of the first of Medupi power station’s six units. The event will mark the biggest technical milestone to date in Eskom’s R300 billion capacity expansion programme aimed at ensuring future security of electricity supply.

“We’re on the verge of starting to deliver on the biggest energy expansion programme South Africa has seen in decades which is a critical step closer to a future of reliable energy supply,” said Collin Matjila, Eskom’s interim Chief Executive at the Medupi site today during an oversight visit by the Minister of Public Enterprises, Ms Lynne Brown.

Medupi will have six units, each generating 794 Megawatts. The units are being developed in intervals and the first one (Unit 6) will be synchronised at midday on 24 December 2014.

Eskom is building Medupi coal power station (4 764 Megawatts) near Lephalale in Limpopo, Kusile coal power station (4 800 Megawatts) near Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, and Ingula pumped storage scheme (1 332 Megawatts) in the Drakensberg mountain range on the border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. Once complete, Medupi will be the fourth-largest coal power station in the southern hemisphere and the largest dry-cooled power station in the world.

“It’s incredibly exciting, and at the same time, remains a daunting challenge as projects of this scale and complexity navigate potential technical, operational, contractual and staffing risks daily,” Matjila added.

Synchronisation, or first power, is the process whereby the generator in the unit is electrically connected to the power grid, in such a way that its power is perfectly aligned with all the other generators and to generate and deliver electricity into the grid. It will take several months for Unit 6 to ramp up to full and stable power as part of the standard commissioning and optimisation process.

“Whilst Eskom is recognised internationally as a leader in operating coal-fired power stations, we are utilising several new technologies at Medupi, so adjusting all the systems to operate optimally and in sync will take some time,” said Dan Marokane, Eskom’s acting Group Executive for Group Capital.

Boiler repair work necessitated by defective welding, boiler chemical cleaning and turbine on barring have all been completed. The electronic control and instrumentation system has recently completed its final site integration testing.

In preparation for synchnisation of Unit 6, the Chemical Cleaning phase of the Unit 6 Boiler was achieved ahead of schedule, marking yet another noteworthy achievement for the Project. Chemical Cleaning is required to ensure that residual contamination and excess depositions such as mill scale, welding slag and grease do not contaminate product or cause severe damage to rotating machinery or valves.

The Site Integration Tests (SIT) for the Control & Instrumentation (C&I) system have been successfully completed. The accomplishment of this significant milestone for the C&I Control systems means that the Distributed Control System is now ready to support First Fires and synchronisation.

As of Monday 8 September 544 730 tons of coal had been received at the Coal Stockyard as provided under contract from the Exxaro owned and operated Grootegeluk mine.

What currently remains is to operate and commission the Draught Groups through the Control and Instrumentation system, putting fires into the boiler to generate steam for the blow through process, then passing steam to the turbine and finally synchronisation of the generator in December,’’ said Marokane.

Medupi is the first power station that Eskom has built in 20 years.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons as we progressed, and we’ve trained people and built up skills that will be useful not only for the remainder of the build programme, but also for the South African industry,” Marokane added.

Eskom’s capacity expansion programme has provided a significant economic stimulus at a time when other sectors have stagnated or showed a decline, said Marokane. The programme employs more than 40 000 people and created multi-billion rand supply opportunities for local suppliers from steel, construction, equipment and security to laundry, clothing and catering, among others.

When completed in 2019/20, the new build programme will have added more than 17 000 MW of capacity, providing security of electricity supply to South African homes and businesses, powering economic expansion and extending electricity to millions of households who have previously relied on other fuels for domestic cooking and heating.

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