Building one of the world's largest power plants

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.”

Rob Bazzant

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


Sounds like an impressive Project with some colossal statistics, and no doubt is a feat of modern Design, Engineering and Technology (and of course good source of Employment.

However the source of fuel (Coal-Fired) does sit un-comfortable (despite the statement that: "the sulphur dioxide emission levels will be in line with South African national environmental standards". Aside from the obvious that being a Fossil Fuel, it's a finite natural resource, this new Project will un-doubtebly add to the harm already being done to our Planet.

Disappointed to see yet another opportunity missed to embrace more sustainable / renewable forms of Energy Production, instead of just repeating the same mistakes.

As a footnote, I often contemplate if our efforts to reduce pollution etc. here in the U.K. are actually making a difference globally (certainly from taking the moral high ground and not being hypocritical, the it's a big YES - we are doing the right thing for our Children, Grand Children and so on), however globally, schemes which are adding to the problem of damaging the Environment and Climate Change, such as the one Reported here, as well as countless more in Eastern Europe, Africa, China and the Far East
are doing far more harm than we are doing good!

Duncan Stewart - VSM | MCIAT, 15 January 2019

Cualquier intento de ponderar ésta megaconstrucción, resulta absolutamente inútil por el megadaño ambiental que este proyecto genera además de ser diametralmente opuesto a las actuales política medioambientales mundiales. Éste escrito al igual que el proyecto en mención son meras hipocresías ambientales.

Miguel Enrique Marenco Boekhoudt, 17 January 2019

What a tremendous honour it was to have worked with Rob and to be taught by him. He has made such an impact on my life and the way I will manage sites going forward. The scale of the project was enormous and he handled it with ease, under difficult circumstances.

Frank Oosthuizen, 18 January 2019

It is an honour to work with Rob, I learnt a lot from him and still do Rob's input into this project maid a huge difference I have been working night shift for a few years and at 3 a.m. in the morning I will receive a phone call from Rob requesting a walk down on the boilers to make sure everything is in place, he is a hard-working motivated person that leads by example! Mr Rob I salute you

Sarel Marais, 18 January 2019

I was part of the project for 3 years and 6 months. I was on both side of the project. Turbine and boiler side i was privileged to work with Rob and Frank Oosthuizen on Night Shift. This project was a highlight in my life and learned a lot from it.
Hope your future burns brite.

Corrie Scheepers , 21 January 2019

I Have been on medupi from 2009 till 2018 and its was honour to be part of the project and loved it there. And it was for sure an privileged to work with Rob and all the other expats. It was an experience of an life time to work and build medupi. Hope all is blessed for the new year.

Pieter van der Lingen, 23 January 2019

I hope to be part of this Mega Project. One of the largest Coal Fired Power Plant in the world.

As long as we maintaining the clean emission of the Plant and to secure a clean air environment.

Lawrence Mensa, 29 January 2019

Good read Rob,
It was nice to be part of BOP...
Hope they look after it.....
All the best

Andrew Little, 19 February 2019

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