13 January 2019
Rob Bazzant MCIOB describes his project management experiences of a South African power plant construction – claimed to be one of the largest projects in the world.
I arrived in the South African bushveld at the Medupi Power Plant project in February 2012.
Having spent the previous eight years based predominantly in London the culture shock could not have been more emphatic. The rural isolation of Lephalale, a small town 300km from the nearest major city of Pretoria, meant the pace of life beyond the site was vastly different to London.
Medupi is a coal-fired power plant with a generation capacity of 4,800MW of electricity, which is equivalent to approximately 10% of all electricity generated in South Africa and enough to provide power to more than 3 million homes.
“Having already worked on two projects with similar stature (Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok and Heathrow’s T5 airport projects) I have experience of mega-projects, but Medupi is simply on another level.”
Super-critical technology is used in the six boilers to generate superheated steam to temperatures up to 560°C, which results in a 38% increase in efficiency to sub-critical boilers.
The means of heating the water to create this steam is by using clean coal technology with 16m tons of coal being consumed annually. Medupi’s pulse jet filtration system and the soon-to-be-built desulphurisation plant means the sulphur dioxide emission levels will be in line with South African national environmental standards.
Medupi will be the fourth largest coal-fired plant in the world but can also boast of being the largest dry cooled power plant in the world, a technology which ensures that the facility is zero effluent, meaning no waste water is discharged from the plant.
Project costs are currently estimated at ZAR185bn (£10bn).
When I arrived on the project I was immediately struck by three factors: the first was the intense heat – mid summer temperatures can reach the high forties; the second was the early start times – work started at 6am daily; and the third was the sheer scale of the project.
At its peak, Medupi was billed as the largest project under construction in the world. Having already worked on two projects with similar stature (Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok and Heathrow’s T5 airport projects) I have experience of mega-projects, but Medupi is simply on another level.
More than 250,000 tons of structural steel have been erected, more than 500,000 piping welds completed, 36 major fans and 12 colossal gas air heaters installed, all supported by over 4 million pages of quality control documentation.
Five of the six units are now synchronised to the national grid with the last one on target to be generating energy by March 2019.
Medupi will be the fourth largest coal-fired plant in the world
The legacy Medupi leaves can be measured nationally in terms of a secure and stable power grid which has seen the practice of load shedding (the deliberate and selective isolation of power to specific locations to avoid total network failure) become virtually non-existent whilst locally the infrastructure has been vastly improved with new housing, roads, schools, hospitals and retail facilities constructed in and around Lephalale.
The skills transfer programme has also been a huge success with approximately 15,000 local citizens benefitting from improved training, education and qualifications.
I have been responsible for the construction completion and turn over to commissioning of three units to date. My final challenge will be to turn M1 over to commissioning by January 2019 and bringing the construction of the plant to an end by March 2019. This will see my time on the project extend beyond seven years which is difficult to comprehend in the modern era of construction.
Rob Bazzant is boiler construction manager at Shanahan Engineering
Coal powered electricity is increasing with China financing.