Medupi Power Station

From Global Energy Monitor
This article is part of the CoalSwarm coverage of South Africa
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The Medupi Power Station is a 4,800-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant in Lephalale, South Africa.


The undated satellite photo below shows the power station under construction in Lephalale.

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The project comprises six 800 megawatt (MW) units to be provide a total installed capacity of 4,800 MW installed capacity. In November 2007 the public electricity utility, Eskom, stated that "the first unit is scheduled to be commissioned in 2012, with the last unit scheduled for commissioning by 2015."[1]

The power station will be Eskom's first supercritical plant and when completed will be "the biggest dry-cooled power station in the world". The power station site was selected on the basis of its proximity to the Waterberg Coalfields and to an existing transmission system, the availability of land, acceptable coal prices and "the availability of alternative ash disposal options". Eskom bought the 883 hectare site from Kumba Coal, which is now known as Exxaro Coal.[1]

Both Medupi and Eskom's Kusile power station are delayed from the initially planned April 2011 commissioning date.[2] In July 2013 Eskom said that plant would be delayed until 2014, due to rising costs.[3]

Synchronization of the first unit, Unit 6, has since been pushed to mid-2015, and Unit 5 to 2016. The remaining units are planned for operation by 2019.[4][5]

Unit 6 was synchronized in March 2015, the first unit to generate power at the station.[6]

In July 2016 it was reported that unit 5 was planned for commercial operation in March 2018, and unit 1 by May 2020.[7] In September 2016 unit 5 was synchronized, and is expected to generate and deliver electricity into the grid over several months.[8]

On April 3, 2017, Unit 5 entered commercial operation,[9] and unit 4 on November 28, 2017.[10]

Medupi Unit 3 achieved first synchronisation in April 2018, with commercial operation planned for December 2018.[11] On June 28, 2019, Eskom said unit 3 had attained Commercial Operation status.[12]

Unit 2 was synchronized in October 2018.[13]

In February 2019, Eskom reported R8 billion would be needed to fix design defects at Medupi and Kusile.[14]

As of July 2019, unit 2 was still undergoing commissioning and unit 1 was under construction.[15]

In August 2019, Unit 1 was synchronized to the grid.[16]

In November 2019, Eskom said unit 2 had attained commercial operation status.[16]

According to Eskom's 2020 Annual Report, the full plant is planned for operation in 2021,[17] suggesting the commercial operation of unit 1 has been postponed from 2020 to 2021.

In May 2021, South Africa’s Deputy President David Mabuza reiterated the end of 2021 completion date, even though he noted that "We will be fixing some of the technical mistakes, as we go on until we get the plant fully operational."[18]

In late July 2021, six years after the first unit began supplying power to the grid, the sixth and last generating unit finally reached commercial operation. However, boiler design defects still had to be resolved and repairs were expected to take place over the next two years.[19][20]

Just one week after its final unit began operating, Eskom announced the power station experienced an explosion on the Unit 4 generator and suspected the incident resulted in Unit 5 tripping.[21]

A May 2022 report stated that nine employees were suspended due to the event and "procedural non-compliance and management failures", which were investigated for the nine months following the explosion.[22] Unit 4 had yet to come back online, and the missing 720 MW were affecting the plant's overall performance. At this point, only half of the Medupi units were operating at full capacity.[23]

In June 2022, after touting the profitability for years, the African Development Bank conceded that the plant "will not show a financial benefit over its lifetime". They cite that with an intended load factor of 90%, the project has only seen a 70% load factor.[24]

Environmental litigation

According to a Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) analysis, assuming Medupi runs at full capacity without flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) technology, commonly known as air scrubbers, an estimated 90 people could die every year. That means that if FGD is not installed in the next 10 years, 900 people could die from pollution-related illnesses.[25]

The Life After Coal campaign, consisting of groundWork, Earthlife Africa, and the Centre for Environmental Rights, has challenged various Eskom efforts to delay or completely avoid meeting pollution limits for its coal power plants.[26]

Recently, Eskom sought to be allowed to emit as much as 4,000 milligrams of sulfur dioxide per normal cubic meter at Medupi until 2030. However, in October 2021, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment ordered Eskom to keep to an already agreed temporary limit of 3,500 milligrams and ultimately comply with a 1,000 milligram limit. The company, which has 400 billion rand of debt, announced it would appeal to the environment, public enterprises and energy departments, over the decision.[27][28]

Coal supply

The coal for the power station would be sourced from Exxaro Coal's Grootegeluk coal mine, which would increase production by 16 million tonnes a year to cater for the new power station.[29]

While Eskom have embarked on a major construction program, it has encountered difficulties with the Medupi power station. "Schedule forecasting has been sub-optimal on the project. In response to this, project management is engaged in intensive negotiations with MPS-JV, Alstom and Hitachi to improve the current forecast program to completion. Re-opening of negotiations for already placed contracts to ensure a 5% cost reduction," it states on its website.[30]

In December 2009, Eskom notified Exxaro that it wanted to change the terms of the coal supply contract "including the coal price escalation mechanism and the coal delivery ramp-up. Indications are that the date for first coal delivery to the power station, in terms of the CSA, has been confirmed to be during the first half of 2012, aligned to the commercial start-up of the power station." In response to this hiccup, Exxaro put the expansion of the Grootegeluk coal mine on hold.[31]

According to a 2011 Sierra Club report, Eskom’s own consultants estimate that 35 new coal mines will be required to support Medupi and Kusile.[32]


In 2007 the estimated cost of the station was R56 billion. By 2013 the final cost was an estimated R150 billion. According to Business Day, the price tag would "make Medupi the most expensive coal-fired power station on the planet (per unit of output)."[33]


In 2008 and 2009, loans were closed for the project. The first was for US$353.31 from KfW.[34] The second was for US$721.98 million from BHF Bank, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole Group, Commerzbank, KfW, Natixis, and UniCredit.[35]

World Bank loan

On April 8, 2010 the World Bank voted to approve a $3.75 billion loan as requested by the South African government for the Medupi station. The United States abstained from voting on the measure. It was the first World Bank loan to the country since the fall of Apartheid in the mid-1990s.[36]

World Bank Panel criticizes bank loan approval

In December 2011, an 18-month investigation by the World Bank Inspection Panel concluded that the bank insufficiently took health, water scarcity and pressures on local services into account when approving the loan, yet the decision did not violate World Bank climate change policies because the World Bank does not have explicit emission targets. The panel did say that it found the World Bank's steps to mitigate Medupi's estimated 25 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions lacking, and that the World Bank's statement that its partnership with South Africa will lower the country's emissions trajectory was "overly optimistic ... given that Medupi will emit significant levels of GHG emissions." The inspection panel was most critical when it came to water, finding that the expansion of the Grootegeluk coal mine to supply Medupi will result in significant water scarcity and pollution problems.[37]

Loan from China Development Bank

On July 6, 2017, the China Development Bank (CDB) announced it would loan US$1.5 billion to Eskom to fund the completion of the Medupi coal plant. The loan came just two days before a G20 climate action plan, agreed by Chinese leader Xi, called on multilateral development banks to offer “coordinated support for country driven long-term strategies for low greenhouse gas emissions”. Although the CBD is not a multilateral bank and therefore not technically covered by the G20 plan’s call, it is a state-run institution using public money.[38]

New Development Bank Funding

In April 2019, the New Development Bank provided US$480 million in funding for the implementation of sulfur dioxide emissions reduction technology at the Medupi power station.[39]

Lobbying for Clean Development Mechanism funding

Eskom is seeking approval from the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism for funding for the project. "When you look at CDM, you look at the baseline of a country. South Africa is currently based on subcritical coal. This is supercritical. It is cleaner," said Mandy Rambharos, Eskom's climate change and sustainability manager.[40]

World Bank spokesman Roger Morier said that CDM funding for the project could be an option."The Medupi power plant will be the first in Africa to use cleaner super-critical technology, making it one of the most efficient large-scale power plants on the continent. World Bank financing for Medupi and the wind/solar components, however, only meets a small part of Eskom's overall financing needs," he said. "As Eskom looks for additional financing for its critical energy program, the CDM could be one of options it considers," he said.[40]

Lisa Friedman from ClimateWire reported that there are currently two dozen "new grid-connected fossil fuel power plants using a less GHG-intensive technology" being considered for CDM funding. One, the Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project in Gujarat, India, has already been approved and two others are close to the final decision stage.[40]

Project Decision making timetable

Significant developments in the construction of the power station have included:

  • 2005: Eskom proposed to build the power station
  • 2006: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism approved the project
  • May 2007: the Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism rejected appeals lodged against the decision and approved the project
  • August 2007: Ceremonial ground-breaking at the site
  • September 19, 2008: coal contract was concluded with Exxaro.[30]

Greenhouse gas emissions

The plant is projected to emit 32 million tons of Carbon dioxide equivalent a year. Eskom is in the process of developing a submission to seek carbon credits under the UNFCCC's Clean Development Mechanism.[41]


Local opposition and permit violations

Local farmers in the Limpopo province brought in an environmental expert to analyze impacts of the sand mining on the Limpopo River and to identify alternatives. The expert determined that the damage being done to the river was possibly irreversible, and that Eskom was sand mining without adequate permits from the Ministry of Mining.[32]

Environmentalists Oppose World Bank Loan to Eskom

In late February 2010, climate change activists and concerned individuals from about the world expressed concern that the World Bank would fund new coal-fired power stations proposed by the South African government-owned utility, Eskom. One of the projects is the Medupi power station, a 4800 megawatt plant under construction in Lephalale in the country's northern region of Limpopo.

Groups opposing the project, which includes Climate Justice Now, groundWork and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, vowed to pressure country directors within the World Bank to vote against the loan and also said they would revive the World Bank "bond boycott" that was launched last decade to end structural adjustment programs and anti-environmental project funded by the Bank.[42]

Inger Andersen, World Bank's director for sustainable development in Africa, said the loan would support the "responsible use of coal as an interim resource for power generation, given lack of viable alternatives". The opposition groups countered, that if granted, the loan would destroy the image the World Bank is portraying of a climate-friendly financier. In order to power the new coal plants, over 40 new mines would have to be opened up in the region. The proposed plants would also increase utility rates to consumers. Large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club have signed on to a petition that opposes the loan.[42]

On March 8, 2010 it was announced that the UK and US threatened to withhold support for a World Bank loan intended to help South Africa build the new coal-fired power station. The UK and US opposed to the loan because they believe it will make it harder for South Africa to deliver emission cuts.[43]

On April 8, 2010 the World Bank voted to approve a $3.75 billion loan as requested by the South African government. The United States abstained from voting on the measure.[44] It was the first World Bank loan to the country since the fall of Apartheid in the mid-1990s.

Critics, however, were not pleased with the World Bank's decision to fund the coal plant, even though the loan had provisions for other energy technologies like wind and solar. "I think it's pretty clear the World Bank is telling the people of South Africa that they're not taking their commitments to alleviating poverty and climate change seriously," said Mark Kresowik, corporate accountability and finance representative for the Sierra Club's 'Beyond Coal' campaign. Other countries that abstained from the vote included the U.K., Netherlands and Italy.[45]

Retirement plans

In April 2020, Eskom listed unit retirement dates from 2065 to 2069.[46] (50-year Life Decommissioning estimates, using South Africa's 2019 Integrated Resource Plan approach, would mean unit retirements from 2065 to 2071.[47])

Project Details

  • Sponsor: Eskom
  • Parent company: Eskom
  • Location: Lephalale, South Africa
  • Coordinates: -23.7049731, 27.563839 (exact)
  • Status: Operating
  • Capacity: 4,800 MW (Units 1-6: 794.8 MW)
  • Type: Supercritical
  • In service: Unit 1: 2021, Units 2-3: 2019; Unit 4: 2017; Unit 5: 2017; Unit 6: 2015
  • Projected retirement: 2065-2071
  • Coal Type: Bituminous
  • Coal Source: Grootegeluk coal mine
  • Source of financing: $3.75 billion in debt from the World Bank;[36] US$1.5 billion in debt from the China Development Bank (CDB)[38]; US$353.31 million in debt from KfW;[34] US$721.98 million in debt from BHF Bank, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole Group, Commerzbank, KfW, Natixis, and UniCredit[35]

Articles and Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 Eskom, "Medupi Power Station," Eskom website, November 2007
  2. "Kusile power station ‘on course to deliver by next December,’" Business Day Live, August 22, 2013
  3. Paul Burkhardt, "Eskom South Africa Power Plant Delayed to 2014 as Costs Rise," Bloomberg, July 8, 2013
  4. "No official new Medupi sync date, but Feb being targeted," Mining Weekly, January 8, 2015
  5. "Medupi, Kusile to be completed by 2021," Eyewitness News, Apr 22, 2015
  6. "Eskom's Medupi power station produces first electricity," South Africa Info, March 3, 2015
  7. "Medupi, Kusile, and the massive cost/time overrun," Daily Maverick, July 7, 2016
  8. "Medupi unit 5 synchronised to national grid," SABC, September 10, 2016
  9. "Eskom's Medupi power station unit 5 online ahead of schedule," Reuters, April 3, 2017
  10. "Eskom links Medupi new coal-fired unit to national grid," Eyewitness News, November 28, 2017
  11. "Medupi power station project, South Africa," Engineering News, September 28, 2018
  12. "Eskom Medupi Unit 3 achieves commercial operation," Eskom, June 28, 2019
  13. "Eskom announces Unit 2 of Medupi is operational," Fin24, October 9, 2018
  14. "Kusile and Medupi were destined to fail from the start," BusinessLIVE, May 1, 2019
  15. Linda van Tilburg, "Still no puff from Kusile and Medupi – Chris Yelland," July 29, 2019
  16. 16.0 16.1 "No to privatisation as Medupi Unit 2 attains commercial operation," ESI Africa, November 27, 2019
  17. Integrated Report, Eskom, 2020
  18. "Medupi Power Station in South Africa to be fully operational by end of year," Construction Review Online, May 17, 2021
  19. “After billions in cost overruns, design flaws, delays and load shedding, Medupi is finally complete,” News24, August 2, 2021
  20. "South Africa’s 4,764MW Medupi coal plant completed," Power Engineering International, August 2, 2021
  21. "The Eskom Medupi coal-fired power plant rollercoaster ride," ESI-Africa, August 11, 2021
  22. "Nine Eskom workers suspended for hydrogen explosion at Medupi power station," Daily Maverick, May 19, 2022
  24. "Funder Says Eskom’s $8.7 Billion Power Plant Won’t Make Money," Bloomberg, June 2, 2022
  25. "Medupi’s killer fumes: The story of a power station’s missing air scrubbers," The Citizen, March 3, 2020
  26. See, e.g., "NGOs challenge Eskom’s latest application to escape compliance with air pollution laws," Centre for Environmental Rights, February 7, 2020
  27. "Eskom Says Pollution Ruling May Shut 16 Gigawatts of Power," Bloomberg, December 14, 2021
  28. “Eskom to engage on way forward after being denied permission to delay air-quality compliance,” Engineering News, December 14, 2021
  29. "Coal giant aspires to be 'zero carbon footprint' company," Business Report, June 6, 2008
  30. 30.0 30.1 Eskom, "Status Report on Capacity Expansion Projects", Eskom website, accessed May 2010
  31. Exxaro, "Medupi coal supply and off-take agreement update," Media Release, December 8, 2009
  32. 32.0 32.1 "Move Beyond Coal, Now!: Voices from the Front Lines of the Global Struggle," Sierra Club report, September 2011
  33. David Gleason, "Medupi farce may cost trillion-plus," Businss Day Live, July 10, 2013
  34. 34.0 34.1 "Preview of Medupi Coal-fired Power Plant - Phase 1 | Transaction | IJGlobal". Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  35. 35.0 35.1 "Preview of Medupi Power Plant Boiler Financing | Transaction | IJGlobal". Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  36. 36.0 36.1 ClimateWire, LISA FRIEDMAN of. "South Africa Wins $3.75 Billion Coal Loan -". Retrieved September 22, 2020.
  37. Lisa Friedman, "Auditors find World Bank skipped policy steps in approving huge South African coal plant," E&E, December 2, 2011
  38. 38.0 38.1 "China signed African coal deal days before Xi low emissions pledge at G20," Climate Home, 12/07/2017
  39. Kevin Bloom, Medupi’s R6.8bn New Development Bank injection and other BRICS climate crimes, Daily Maverick, Apr. 10, 2019
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Lisa Friedman, "New South African Coal Plant Seeks Emission Credits for 'Cleaner' Coal," New York Times, June 2, 2010 (This story is originally from ClimateWire)
  41. Jocelyn Newmarch, "Eskom Seeks Medupi Carbon Credits,", April 28, 2010
  42. 42.0 42.1 "Eskom told to charge companies fair rates, " Business Report, February 23, 2010
  43. "World Bank split over controversial 'clean coal' investment," Cath Everett, March 8, 2010
  44. "U.S. abstains on vote to proliferate coal in South Africa," Climate Progress, April 8, 2010
  45. "South Africa wins $3.75 billion coal loan," Climate Wire, April 9, 2010
  46. "Response of Eskom to CER, Reference number: PAIA 0087 MAN," CER website, April 28, 2020
  47. "Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019)," South Africa, October 2019 (figure 26)

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