On average, South African electricity demand is around 29 000 MW and production capacity 42 800 MW. This is the average consumption, but it might peak higher than that on some days. When that occurs and when supply is lower than demand, Eskom initiates load-shedding to prevent a collapse of the grid.
On August 23rd 2015, unit 6 of the new Medupi Power station went into commercial operation and it delivers an additional 794 MW of power into the national grid, taking national generation capacity from 42 800MW to 43 600MW.
To put things in perspective, 800MW (what unit 6 is pumping into the grid now) is enough to serve a city the size of Bloemfontein. Nevertheless, despite the fact that this is a very good news for the country, Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe reminded everyone in an interview with eNews Africa Channel that this additional capacity will not be enough to end load-shedding. It will, however, help Eskom reducing the risks of load-shedding. The country has already experienced the benefits of this added capacity over the last 2 weeks: load shedding occurrences have decreased considerably.
Medupi Power Station Project
Medupi Power Station’s construction started 8 years ago and is only showing some results now. Indeed, Medupi unit 6 was commissioned and tied to the grid in March and had been tested until August 23rd 2015 when it finally went into commercial operation and delivered 794 MW (megawatts) of power into the national grid. The 5 other units are still under construction, and are planned to be tied to the national grid by 2019. In total, the Medupi power station will add to the national generation capacity 6 times 800 MW, taking national generation capacity from 42 800MW to 45 958 MW.
When discussed and signed in 2007, the Medupi project (named Project Alpha at this time) was only forecasting the construction of 3 units, adding 2400 MW to the national grid. It was also supposed to cost only R32 billion. Since then Eskom realized the electricity demand is constantly increasing and 3 units would not have been enough, so 3 more units are currently being built. The budget for the project exploded as well. In July, City Press reported that the government estimated the overall cost of the station to be at least R105-billion. However, the newspaper added independent analysts believed the entire project would come up to R300-billion, which is 10 times the original amount forecasted!
When Medupi will be entirely finished and functioning, it will be the fourth-largest coal power station in the southern hemisphere, and the largest dry-cooled coal power station in the world.
Expected impacts of the project on SA economy
Last Sunday, on August 30th 2015, President Zuma officially opened Medupi’s unit 6. It was important for the President to be there, first because this is a governmental project finally giving results after years of delays due to strikes, technical issues and cost overruns. Yet there is another reason for President Zuma’s presence for the official opening of the production unit. Indeed electricity supply is deeply impacting business in South Africa, as in the rest of the world. President Zuma highlighted that power cuts were South Africa’s biggest challenge. They had shaved off one percentage point off growth and contributed to South Africa’s economic contraction in the second quarter of this year.
Medupi power station is going to help Eskom’s supply to match current demand, however while Medupi’s Unit 6 is launched, Koeberg’s Unit 2 is offline for three months of scheduled maintenance, which means that about 930 megawatts have been taken off the grid. The country’s electricity production is supposed to be enough to meet the demand by 2030 when Medupi will be generating power, as well as the new solar farms (such as the Redstone project: read more here) and the new nuclear power plants currently under construction.