South Africa’s power system is preparing to receive a critical capacity boost. In March, state-owned utility Eskom grid-synchronized the first of four units of the Ingula Pumped Storage project in KwaZulu-Natal.

The utility hasn’t had to shed load since August 2015, and it celebrates that achievement every day. Eskom credits improvements in unplanned losses and maintenance for that. The country’s Energy Intensive Users Group suggests, however, that South Africa has kept the lights on not because of capacity additions but because the decline in metals prices has tamped down manufacturing and curbed power demand. Eskom acknowledged that demand has fallen, but not drastically, pointing out that it also supplies electricity to power-strapped neighbors Zambia and Zimbabwe under discretionary agreements.

In early March, the company had 35.8 GW in operating capacity for the first time in more than 18 months. It has a massive expansion program under way to increase its generation capacity by 17.3 GW, to lengthen transmission lines by 9,756 kilometers, and to increase its substation capacity. The expansion program includes two 4.7-GW coal-fired power plants, Kusile and Medupi. Synchronization of Unit 3 of the 1.3-GW Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme marked a critical milestone in the company’s efforts to build new capacity (Figure 3).


3. Energy potential. Eskom in March grid-synchronized the first of four units of the 1.3-GW Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme. The project conceived in the 1980s is being built on the escarpment of the little Drakensberg and consists of an upper dam (Bedford Dam) and a lower dam (Bramhoek Dam), which are 4.6 kilometers apart and connected by underground waterways passing through a subterranean powerhouse with four 333-MW generators. Construction of the lower waterway was completed in December 2015 and filled with water from the lower dam. Unit 3 will be fully operational in January 2017. Testing of Unit 4 is under way and major construction of Unit 1 and 2 has also been completed. Courtesy: Eskom

In mid-February, meanwhile, Eskom returned to service all six units of the 4.1-GW Majuba coal-fired power plant situated in Mpumalanga province. Operations at the 1994-built plant were halted after a coal storage silo collapsed in November 2014. Workers are now repairing the damaged silo and associated coal conveyor system as well as reinforcing two other coal silos, Eskom said. That project should be completed by December 2017.

The company is notably also taking steps to increase its nuclear capacity. On March 15, it submitted nuclear installation site license applications for Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape and Duynefontein in the Western Cape to South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator. The Thyspunt site would be located a few miles west of Cape St. Francis, while Duynefontein sits some 20 miles north of Cape Town. Eskom told POWER that once the nuclear vendor is chosen, a nuclear installation license application would be initiated. Several other regulatory permits are required for “mega build projects” like these, so it will likely be years before any physical work begins at either site.

Sonal Patel, associate editor