South Africa faces a record year for power outages after an explosion damaged one of the state-owned electricity utility’s newest coal-fired generation units.
The blast at the Medupi station on Sunday occurred during a process to find an external leak, according to preliminary findings. “At this point we do not have details as to what it will cost and how long it will take to repair the generator,” Eskom said in a reply to questions.
The incident threatens to unravel any progress made by the utility to improve performance and avoid more power cuts that have crimped the economic growth in Africa’s most-industrialized nation. It adds to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and last month’s deadly riots on the economy.
Eskom pledged in March that a maintenance drive to improve performance of its aging fleet of coal-fired plants would start showing results from September. The incident at the Medupi station, which is being constructed at a cost of about R135 billion ($9.1 billion), demonstrates the utility’s inability to prevent faults throughout the power grid.
Blackouts through the first half of 2021 were equivalent to about 70% of last year’s unprecedented outages, according to data from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
“The damage is extensive” and will involve replacing equipment, said Anton Eberhard, a professor at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business. From the insurance claim to ordering the parts, the entire process could take at least two years, he said.
Eskom found that there was a deviation from procedure that led to the incident and placed managers involved under precautionary suspension pending the conclusion of an investigation.
“At this point there is no basis to suspect any malicious intent for the unfortunate incident,” it said.