Eskom Peaking Acacia and Port Rex - IS³ | AVEVA Select Partner

Industry: Power Generation

Eskom Peaking’s power stations more ready than ever

If there was ever a time to be ready for peak power demands, it was during the 2010 World Cup held in the heart of a South African winter. Thankfully, ESKOM’s Acacia and Port Rex gas turbine power stations were ready for action well ahead of schedule thanks to a rigorous upgrade programme


Acacia Power Station is situated on the outskirts of Cape Town in the Western Cape and Port Rex power station at East London in the Eastern Cape. Each station has three 57MW gas turbine generator units where each unit is a “twin-pack” FT4 Pratt and Whitney Gas Generator Set incorporating turbines that are similar to Boeing 707 engines. The result is that each of these stations can generate a total of 171MW that can be channelled to the national grid at a moment’s notice.

The Port Rex power station is at the end of a very long transmission line and its main purpose is to stabilise the voltage on that line by running in what is known as synchronous condenser mode for most of the time and only switching over to its generating mode on demand.

Acacia also provides line stabilisation but its most important role is as off-site back-up electrical supply to Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, an important licensing requirement. If Acacia does not have sufficient generating capacity and redundancy available, Koeberg has to be shut down, so it carries a huge responsibility. Both Acacia and Port Rex can be operated by remote control from Eskom’s National Control Centre in Germiston to provide back-up and black-start capability (the ability to start operating without the need for external power).

Since their commissioning in 1976, the control systems for Acacia and Port Rex had remained largely untouched and consisted of hardwired relay logic and analogue power governors which had since become obsolete. Electrical protection was implemented through electro-mechanical relays and this was simply no longer good enough as Senior Advisor for ESKOM Peaking Generation, Abdul Gaffaar Hoosain explains.

“For example, when a plant is brought on-line, which often needs to happen in just a couple of minutes (in fact, it takes just 4 ½ minutes for either power station to reach full-load power) – it is vital to avoid trips or mode-change failures as this would defeat the rapid response requirement. However, if the system does fail, it is vital that we determine the root cause of that failure as soon as possible and, more importantly, make sure that the conditions which caused it are not only understood, but are not repeated in the future. To this end, SCADA systems can contribute enormously to our knowledge of the cause of incidents.”

The obsolescence of the control systems, coupled with the very limited availability of expert knowledge to keep them running as well as the absence of historical plant information (i.e. for troubleshooting) and the impossibility of remote engineering support prompted ESKOM to review its options and in 2007, the company decided that an upgrade of these critical resources was in order.

How it was done

“We contacted the OEMs that installed the original system and they indicated that they were able to implement what we wanted and offered solutions based on a number of alternative options,” says Hoosain. “Our primary decision was that we wanted the new system to be based on Wonderware’s Historian and InTouch HMI/SCADA. Our good relationship and experiences with Wonderware as well as the excellent level of support and training we have received in the past meant that we had adopted a specific platform and the choice of other elements in the implementation would be influenced by their degree of compatibility with that platform.”

The OEM was appointed as the responsible party for the building and factory testing the entire control system which was initially implemented at their facility in Colorado. The OEM was also to supply ESKOM with a commissioning engineer during the installation phase of the project.

“Our primary decision was that we wanted the new system to be based on Wonderware’s Historian and InTouch HMI/SCADA … the choice of other elements in the implementation would be influenced by their degree of compatibility with that platform.”
– Abdul Gaffaar Hoosain, Senior Advisor for ESKOM Peaking Generation

Figure 1: System overview of one of the power stations as seen on an InTouch display.

Figure 1 shows an overview of the system at any one of the power stations where the switches, controllers, PLCs, protection relays, vibration monitors, HMIs and the Historian all get their timing information from the TimeSync Server (top right). The fault-tolerant ring network (shown in blue) will continue operating should any of its segments fail thereby maintaining communications between the HMI and other segments of the network.

ESKOM’s responsibilities included the design and installation of the Ethernet Network and time synchronisation system as well as the design of the protection system and implementing the historian. ESKOM would also provide InTouch support during commissioning and would be responsible for the installation of the entire delivered system.

Figure 2: The migration from a proprietary to an open approach of information delivery helped put ESKOM in
control of its own information needs

Figure 3: InTouch screens showing the operational overview, electrical mimic and the vibration monitoring system.

“The adoption of the IEC-61850 OPC interface software standard (figure 2) allowed us to have far more control over the information we wanted and all parties involved in this project collaborated to help us achieve our information goals,” adds Hoosain.

The supplied HMI application was based on InTouch 7.0 and this was immediately upgraded to InTouch 10 which involved creating new graphics and implementing standards. “Perhaps the most important development was making the application unit-independent,” says Hoosain. “This meant removing all the hard-coded unit-specific details and creating a standardised environment that would accommodate all the individual units in both Acacia and Port Rex.”

The implementation of the new system came complete with its own set of challenges ranging from getting operator buy-in to the fact that, in Acacia’s case, only one unit was allowed to be unavailable at any time without jeopardising Koeberg’s status.

Project objective

The PDS project goal is to make plant data openly accessible, in a standardised format, to every area of the business that can use it to improve the bottom line. In order to do this, plant data would have to be readily transformed into useful plant information in order to meet the specific information needs of those who need it.

It was hoped that the more effective use of plant information would ultimately result in more refined performance indicators, better optimisation of plant and better allocation of resources. Plant data could also be delivered to specialist engineers in order to improve incident response.


  • Successful upgrading of mission-critical power stations through the installation of the most up-to-date SCADA facilities without interruption to service or the black start capabilities of either site
  • Enthusiastic response from operations, maintenance and engineering
  • Enhanced in-house skill set
  • Ability to implement any enhancements requested after the upgrade


Information is obviously the key to improved control and when that control can influence the way of life of millions, then it better be applied with great care. ESKOM’s Acacia and Port Rex power stations, when compared to their coal and nuclear colleagues, are diminutive but equally vital to contributing to a way of life that none of us can do without.

Port Rex power station

Acacia power station


About ESKOM Peaking

ESKOM’s Cape Town-based Peaking Generation unit is responsible for meeting peak power demands on the national grid at a moment’s notice. This geographically-distributed initiative, consisting of hydro-electric, pump storage and gas turbine plants, is maintained in a high state of readiness at all times with the help of monitoring systems that are continuously updated to get the most from evolving technologies.

In an environment with virtually zero tolerance for malfunctions, relevant information is often the only differentiator between success and failure. Such is the case for ESKOM’s peak demand generation plants that include pump storage schemes in the Drakensberg and at Palmiet in Grabouw, Cape Town as well as the Gariep (previously Hendrik Verwoerd) and Vanderkloof conventional hydroelectric power stations.

In addition to this, ESKOM Peaking Generation operates two gas turbine plants; Acacia in Cape Town and Port Rex in East London.