The availability of sustainable energy is a challenging issue not only in South Africa, but across Africa. To tackle this challenge, the South African government developed the Integrated Energy Plan that guides energy regulation and infrastructure. Part of the plan is to supply 95% of the country’s population with sustainable and reliable electricity by 2030.

With the emergence of cleaner energy solutions, coal continues to be at the forefront of electricity production in South Africa. This is largely due to the fact that South Africa contains 3.5% of the world’s coal resources.

GE has been working with South African power parastatal, Eskom on two key energy projects that will be among the largest air-cooled coal power plants in the world and will bring the country’s government closer to realising its energy supply goals.The Medupi Power Station Project in Limpopo and the Kusile Power Station Project in Mpumalanga will assist in stabilising the energy grid by providing a combined total of almost 9600MW upon completion.

Once completed in 2020, Medupi will be the fourth-largest coal-fired power plant in the world.

The six units at Medupi have a capacity of 794MW each and an overall installed capacity of 4,764MW. GE’s  scope in this massive project includes the six full Engineering, Procurement and Construction turbine islands, air-cooled condensers as well as overall project and construction management.

In addition to Medupi, GE has also played an important role in the Kusile Project, which will add a total of 4,764MW to the national grid when it’s completed. Kusile’s recently completed Wet Flue Gas Desulphurisation Plant will be the first one on the continent. This particular technology sends flue gas through scrubbers, which transform sulphur dioxide from a harmful gas into a synthetic form of the mineral gypsum by spraying limestone slurry into the flue gas. Mist eliminators then remove the moisture from the treated flue gas before it’s released into the environment as water vapor. The leftover gypsum can be recycled and moved to a landfill or sold.

The steam power technology used at Kusile and Medupi are part of GE’s Smarter, Cleaner Steam Power portfolio that aims to provide higher efficiency while lowering emissions thanks to advanced technology, air quality control systems and digital applications.

The full plant does not need to be completed before the additional megawatts are made available to the national grid. The units are synchronised one by one to further stabilise the grid and to supply the extra energy to the population. Following Unit 5 commercial operation date in April, Unit 4 of the Medupi Power Station was synchronised to the national power grid on 31 May this year, becoming the third of the power station’s six units to come on stream. Kusile Unit 1 started commercial operation on 30 August this year.

“Medupi Unit 4 synchronisation is a great milestone and a strong indication that we are on the right path on delivering the entire new build programme to the country ahead of schedule. I am thrilled by this achievement,” said Prish Govender, acting Group Executive for the Group Capital Division of Eskom, the state-owned power entity.

In the past 20 years, the South African government has provided access to electricity to roughly 6-million homes. When complete, Medupi and Kusile will supply enough power to the grid to meet the electricity needs of another 7-million households. This contributes significantly towards Eskom’s and the government’s goal for everyone in the country to have access to electricity.

Collaboration between Eskom and GE has achieved significant progress with not only power supply in South  Africa, but also skills development. At both plants, GE has more than 5,000 professionals, which include direct employees and sub-contractors, working on the site. The company has also trained hundreds of trade professionals and has spent in the region of $1,4-billion on local content for both Medupi and Kusile. GE also invested in a site-based welding training centre at Kusile and provided bursaries for more than 170 tertiary students from Mpumalanga.

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