One of the reasons Eskom gave for implementing Stage 4 loadshedding last week was boiler tube leaks.
To us that doesn’t seem like much of an issue. Simply replace the faulty tube right?
As it turns out, Eskom’s boilers are incredibly complex and are made up of 650km of tubing. Coal is burned to heat water which creates steam which is used to create electricity.
The trouble with this is that boilers are built from the top down and replacing individual parts is not an option because it would require cutting parts out and reconstructing them inside the boiler.
Boiler tube replacement requires that the boiler be shut down and cooled so that an assessment and ultimately repairs can be carried out by Eskom maintenance teams. These repairs take a while and often require tubes be cut out and replaced, especially if the broken tube is behind tubes which have no faults.
As such constant maintenance of the boilers is required and that’s where Eskom has dropped the ball.
“The thinking at the time was that we cut back on a little of the maintenance of the older power stations in order to fund the quick completion of the newer power stations. I think the logic was sound, other than we’re not seeing the output from the new power stations which we should have expected and that has put pressure on everything,” Eskom executive Andrew Etzinger told EWN.
Sorry Eskom but that’s just silly. Cutting on maintenance for such complex systems is a bad idea, even if it’s to focus on completing new power stations. That would be like saying there’s no need for a dentist visit because I’ll need dentures when I’m older anyway.
Anyway, the reason we know so much about Eskom’s boilers is that local publishing house EE Publishers uploaded a video from Eskom to its YouTube channel showcasing the tech Eskom uses to produce power.
The video is rather old (dates from 2011 are visible throughout) but the material is still rather relevant according to energy analyst Chris Yelland.
As Yelland points out, using coal-powered boilers to generate electricity is an incredibly complex process and we would likely be better off looking at cleaner, lower-cost and simpler methods to generate electricity.
You can watch the full video about Eskom’s boilers below. We highly recommend checking the process employed to repair boiler tubes which you can find at 11:42 in the video.