Day 29: Remember the Days of the 330 Engine Room

This blog has nothing to do with 330 at all. It just seemed a good title! This week was spent in this little part of the power station called the Boiler. And by little, I mean huge. It’s probably the most complex bit of the station and it does not resemble a kettle! It’s like a never-ending maze of pipes going in and out of the metal housings and walls and feeding the turbine with the special steam that is needed to make power for us in South Africa. I’ve always found it quite funny that we still use Steam for the most important aspect of Power Generation seeing that it’s a technology thought about in the 1700s. However, those English guys who pioneered it back then would be in awe of what they see in today’s modern steam powered power plants.

Anyway, this blog my first picture blog of this course so I will try and keep the words to a minimum from here on in. The pictures, well, technically, we aren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside of a Power Station but well, as you will see, most aren’t actually from inside!

So this is the drive on the way to Duvha Power Station pre-7am. Power Stations start work at 7am and, so to maximise our experience, we did the same. Waking up at that ungodly hour is really taxing! The crap thing is that after you do this for weeks on end, you get used to it and end up waking at that time on weekends as well! Disturbing I tell you…

The sheer size of the components inside the plant was something that just wowed me. This is the Hot Reheat Piping that takes the reheated water from the superheater to the IP turbine blades. In English, heat from here is transferred to the turbine blades which turns and makes electricity. You can see the guard rails around if you are worried about scale.

These are ducts for the fans that provide air to the system. The air is usually used to transfer the pulverised coal into the furnace for combustion. I think you could even transport Kanye West’s ego using these ducts.

The thing with a Power Plant is that it is so huge that basically, you could have a waterfall that’s around five metres high in the middle of the auxiliary plant and its okay. It does give you a shock when you see it, but it is okay!

Anyway, the highlight of the week was going onto the roof of the plant and seeing the magnificent view. The roof is around 110m above ground level and apart from being very scary, it is awe-inspiring. This is a picture with the Northern Cooling Tower in the foreground and the Witbank Dam in the background. At the bottom is the HV yard. If you need to braai some meat really quickly, I suggest you throw the meat in there. Anyway, the next couple pictures were also taken on top of the roof. Enjoy them!

The little structure that’s been pointed to is the 250m or so tall Smoke stack at Duvha which, if I’m not mistaken is probably the country’s tallest structure at present. Power Plants nowadays have either precipitators or fabric filters which get rid of the gunk before it’s expelled into the atmosphere. These include the NOx and SOx gases (pretty catchy names!) though when the Boilers are being lit, they tend to burn quite dirtily so these are expelled into the atmosphere. The theory behind the height is that the higher the tower, the less chance of the air infiltrating the air we breathe. Well, go to Witbank and take a deep breath in and you can judge for yourself. Then again, from what I’ve seen, the amount Power Stations lets out into the clear blue sky is miniscule compared to some factories in Witbank. I saw this one factory with brown smoke coming out from the roof – not even the stack! Oh well, so much for a small carbon footprint. Anyway, the rest of these pictures are just general pictures I took out. Yet again, enjoy!

Professional Write does indeed suck. They don’t even have a WYSIWIG interface. Come to think of it, neither did WordPerfect back in the 90s.

I don’t know. Do not even ask!

I thought this was a Coal Plant. I apparently was wrong…

Beautiful 🙂

There is something about narrow corridors that has this oh so powerful effect. If you look at the doorway at the end of the picture, it looks like someone is emerging from the fiery pits of hell!

Apparently, Witbank was the actual setting for the Blair Witch Project.

Dusty Duvha – the one thing about this plant is the immense ash deposits EVERYWHERE! The furnace and precipitators have these opening everywhere which makes the ash from the coal get all over the place. On the 87m platform, the ash deposits on the pipes were around 5cm high. Approximate that using your fingers and you’ll realise that it is quite a lot! Even worse is that the ash is supremely fine and breathing it in is bad for your health. I was like a kid and made sure that I got as dirty as I could! Hey, it was fun okay!!! But anyway, there is my hand, hair and my hard hat. They don’t really tell the story though but you get the picture I hope. Well that was my first foray into the world of Duvha and it was rather enjoyable even though I was covered in ash! Ash Ketchum – he’s my hero!

Day 20: I hate it when I forget my camera

Facebook has caused one really noticeable phenomena amongst young people that was really overlooked before is the photograph. Well, in actual fact, I don’t think that many people actually print out these photographs and display them as was the case before, but the digital still has really seen a boom. These ease of uploading countless pictures up onto the internet for the world to see has meant that having a digital camera or camera-enabled mobile phone is a must. I’ve embraced this fully – I think I’ve uploaded over a thousand pictures onto Facebook already! Anyway, this blog is not about pictures – simply because I forgot my freaking camera!

The site when you approach Duvha is similar to Kendal in the spectacular nature of it all. The one thing I noticed on the Tuesday morning that I drove to Duvha first was that at the turn to the station, it appears as if the station is situated in a valley. How smart – having these smoke stacks rising 250m into the air and then situating it in a valley meaning the mean height of the exhaust fumes is exactly where our air that we breathe comes from! Then, as I drove for another ten minutes, the true nature of this structure hit me. Mind you, the speed limit on that road was 100kph and driving for 10 minutes gets you pretty far! I don’t really know if I can use the word “beautiful” to describe a power plant but it’s something that comes to mind. It really is a hideous structure built purely for purpose and without any real aesthetics taken into account but the monstrous size of it all has this weird beauty to it. It’s kinda like Saturn or something. A bunch of gas molecules that have a strange affinity to each other so they randomly attract to each other and they end up looking real good. Come to think about it, that’s how humans are! Your girlfriend of boyfriend is a bunch of molecules attracted to each other because of some arbitrary code in the DNA and the final product is something relatively beautiful.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!

On Wednesday, I was subjected to torture beyond belief. It was enough exercise to last till the London Olympic Games in 2012. This reminds me that I should have an Olympics blog sometime soon! Back to the topic – my group was taken for a tour of the ash dams. Ash dams are one way of disposing of the parts of the coal that haven’t burnt during combustion in the furnaces of the power station. South Africa is unique in that the quality of coal used for power generation is of the lowest calorific value in the entire world. This is why our electricity is so damn cheap in comparison with the rest of the world but it also means the stations take MUCH more strain than any similar station overseas. It also means that around 40% of the coal put into the furnace is not burnt and is left over as ash. This ash is fine like powder and there is 35 tonnes of it coming out of every furnace every hour of every day of the year. And remember, there are six of these per station. So when you have 210 tonnes of waste being produced every hour, it’s something that needs to be sorted out! One option is to sell this ash to cement companies as it makes real good cement but with sheer amount of waste being produced, these companies cannot buy all this ash. The ash dams, hence, are these immense stretches of dull silver that reach out past the horizon. These are a result of a mixture of water and ash being ferried away through pipes away from the station. When we entered the dam area, I was just shocked at the size and beauty of this all. For kilometres on end, one sees this barren beauty with the desert like ambience and quietness. As we walked on, one sees water trickling along this grey matter creating an image of hope even in this desolate wasteland. As we walk further, we approach a large body of turquoise water with a rickety, old wooden pier hastily constructed on one of the shores. The whole ambience has the eerie feel of the chemically polluted Ural Sea in Russia. The turquoise colour, I was told, is a result of chemicals in the coal that are disposed of with the ash. The water, though, is reclaimed and as much as possible is sent back into the plant to help with the removal of new ash from the coal that is being burnt. As with the power plant itself, this cancer on the landscape had a certain beauty attached to it.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!!

The beauty, though, was replaced with hate and tiredness. Walking around the Ash dams, well – the “small” part that we explored was a 10km trek! This done in overalls, with safety masks and helmets as well as those uncomfortable, heavy and metal-tipped safety boots! Oh, and it was one of those uncharacteristic hot days in August – Damn you global warming! Though there is some irony in that statement *cough*

After having a bit of a rest, I took a road trip that afternoon to the smaller town of Ermelo. The 125km trip would take me on the N4 and then N11. The N4, let me tell you, is to be avoided as the toll road costs R33-00. Seeing that I travelled on it for maybe 5km after the toll, I was not impressed one bit! Then again, I don’t even like paying for parking at shopping centres but anyway! Apparently there is a back road (I suspect the R555) to Middelburg and then from there, one can just join the N11 down to Ermelo. The drive down the N11 is one that strains the mind. It is straight and when I say straight, I mean like on a 100km stretch, there are maybe five gentle curves with the drive through the town of Hendrina the only time when you need to move your steering wheel more than an angle of 5°. The drive is a brilliant drive through the Highveld with it’s brown Winter coat on. You also pass a road to the town called Amsterdam (wonder if they sell any herbs there) and the immense coal fields of Mpumalanga. The grand scale of these minds and the openness of the Highveld boggle the mind and make this seemingly easy drive much more difficult than one would expect. Then again, my mind thinks too much so maybe that’s why I say that! You also pass the immensely enormous Hendrina Power Station – that with ten generating units (as compared to the six each at Duvha and Kendal) and the eight or so cooling towers. I passed the station at dusk and it was a beautiful site – shining light in the cold darkness of the surrounds.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!!!

So anyway, the moral of the story is that I need to get a camera. It should be a decent one at that seeing that I want pictures that will look good. I was using a Sony digital the other day and although it’s packed with features and really one of the better ones out there, the pictures didn’t come out as good as I wanted them too. Then again, I didn’t modify the settings but just pointed and shot and hoped for the best. I say that they should just write better code so the pictures undergo better processing before the camera decides how to capture them but what do I know? Lol. Getting a camera would help though – at least this blog will get some pictures!