Botswana suffers outages

4 April 2014

Financial Mail

ESKOM is trying to bring Kusile and Medupi - its two 4800MW power stat ions that are under construction - on stream in SA at the same time as the Botswana Power Corp (BPC) tries to commission its Morupule B plant.

SA's constrained power situation also affects its neighbours. In a crisis, Eskom has to cut back its power exports. This happened in early March, when wet coal caused a major power station failure at a time when Eskom's margin was already thin.

Several of SA's power stations are old, and a substantial portion of installed capacity is frequently out of service because of maintenance and unplanned breakdowns. Kusile and Medupi are three years behind schedule.

It may seem odd for SA to be selling power to its neighbours when it has a shortage, but an Eskom spokesman says trading of power is beneficial for Eskom and SA as it gives access to additional power during constrained periods, when "imports exceed exports and therefore [trading] makes more capacity available to SA".

SA has enough power to operate normally most of the time. Botswana has suffered shortages for six years and this will continue until Morupule B, a 600MW plant, is fully on stream. The power station is also far behind schedule and is facing technical problems during the commissioning phase.

Botswana's appetite for electricity grew rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of fast economic expansion, though growth slowed in the first decade of this century.

The country's power now comes from the Morupule A power station, which has capacity of 118MW and was completed in 1989. Botswana can also generate about 160MW from diesel, but this is expensive. Peak demand is estimated at over 600MW, so it is reliant on imports, mainly from SA.

An Eskom spokesman says Eskom notified BPC in 2007 that it was likely to experience constraints in the future, and they agreed on a gradual reduction in Eskom supply.

The agreement ended in 2012. Eskom continued to supply Botswana, because Morupule B was running late, and agreed to sell 100MW, which would be interrupted if SA had load shedding, or more on a "day-ahead" basis if SA had the power available. This agreement ends next year.

BPC marketing and communications manager Spencer Moreri says work on the 11bn pula (R13,3bn) Morupule B power station started in 2008.

The station was supposed to be commissioned by the end of 2012. The engineering, procurement and construction contract was awarded to China National Electric Equipment Corp (CNEEC). From January a German company, Steag Energy Services, took CNEEC's place for operation and maintenance.

Three of the four units have been completed and were handed over to BPC, Moreri says. Some modifications are needed on the final unit. All four are expected to be operational by June.

Recently all the units at Morupule B had to be turned off because of problems with the boilers. One has been switched back on and is operating at full capacity.

While Morupule B was down to one unit, Eskom had its own crisis and was unable to sell any power to Botswana. "We are implementing scheduled load shedding but the magnitude has subsided," Moreri says.

"When we need to shed more than 50MW we do not follow the schedule and we advise the public."
Moreri says the final cost of Morupule B is not yet known.

It is being financed by the World Bank, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and the African Development Bank.

A World Bank spokesman says given the strategic importance of Morupule B for adequate electricity supply in Botswana, the bank shares government's concern about the delays in full commissioning and technical problems.

"We are working with the authorities, including BPC, to provide advice and technical assistance to address the root causes of the problems and accelerate project completion. Government has not requested additional financing support at this time."

But businesses in Botswana seem to be coping with the power outages, because they put backup plans in place a long time ago. In SA, some businesses have full backup generators, but many smaller ones have none or only partial backup and are semiparalysed by outages.

"Our stores are equipped with backup generators which supply power in the event of grid outages," a Massmart spokesman says. "This is common practice in both our SA and [our other] African operations."
A spokesman from mining company Debswana says the company's processing plants continue to operate as usual despite intermittent voltage fluctuations.

Debswana and the BPC have a load-shedding protocol under which mines can function normally while switching off power for nonessential functions. "We have a very close working relationship with BPC and it always updates us on the power situation," Debswana's spokesman says.

Original article by Charlotte Mathews

Category: Energy

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