The 18th of September, 1897 saw
the commissioning of the first power station in South Africa built specifically to supply
electrical energy to industry, namely the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. That station
was Brakpan with an installed capacity of 3 400 kVA.
In the years that followed there was a
steady increase in demand until 1947 when industrial development in South Africa took off
to the extent that Escoms sales rose from 5 000 million units in 1947 to 24 500
million units in 1966. During this period some 12 new power stations were constructed. Of
these Camden, the largest, was officially opened on 12th October 1967 by the
Hon. Adv. B J Vorster, second Prime Minister of the new South African Republic.
Load forecasting in the
early 60s indicated that by the end of 1966 a new power station would be required.
Toward the end of 1961 the chairman of the Electricity Supply Commission, Dr Reinhart
Ludwig Straszacker, decided, after an economic investigation, that a station having an
ultimate capacity of 1 600 MW consisting of eight 200 MW units should be considered.
Planning started early in 1962 with the
issue of an enquiry for the supply of coal. Adjudication of ensuing tenders took into
account, in addition to coal costs, such items as availability and cost of water,
availability and cost of rail services and cost and feasibility of transmission lines, all
in relation to the geographic position of the collieries concerned.
The tender was awarded to the
Trans-Natal Coal Mining Company, which had a coalfield capable of supplying a station of
the size envisaged for a period of 30 years. It was situated near Camden railway station
some ten miles (16 km) from Ermelo in the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga). The proximity to
the railway station gave the power station its name This satisfied the system operation
requirement for clear unambiguous names.
Chris du Toit and Van der Walt owned the ground. The construction of a
power station in this area had no effect on the surrounding community, because it was a
hollow area and uncultivated ground but it did create a lot of job opportunities.
General views of Camden Power Station
In locating power stations
in the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga), where abundant coal reserves were present and where
the Department of Water Affairs made adequate supplies of water available, Escom was able
to continue with its policy of erecting pithead power stations where power is generated
cheaply. The electrical power was then transmitted over high-voltage lines to consumers.
Work began on the site in
November/December 1962 and the first turbo-generator was commissioned in April 1967. The
last of the eight units was commissioned in 1969.
Camden became the starting
point of the national power grid, consisting of a series of 400 kV lines which today
interconnect the entire country. Power flowed from Camden over a high-voltage system,
which was amongst the most extensive in the world. With the low cost of generation in the
pithead power stations in the Transvaal (Mpumalanga) it was more economical to supply
those distant consumers in this manner than to build more coal-fired power stations in the
When Camden was completed it had cost R126
million and stood as another symbol of the economic strength of South Africa. Like all
Escom stations, Camden stood as a monument to the founders of the South African power
supply industry who created an enterprise in which the people of the country are the
shareholders and receive dividends in the form of the benefits they derive from the use of
Over the years Camden power
station saw many historical events in its generating life. The station won the National
Fire and Rescue competition three times as well a NOSA 5 Star Grading in 1996. During its
operational life, Camden saw the service of five power station managers namely Jan Zwart,
Peter Collings, Mike Cook, Ben Lategan, John McInerney. Many employees who started their
careers at Camden rose through the ranks and ended up as Executive Directors and power
station managers. Jac Messerschmidt began as an apprentice technician and rose to be an
Executive Director. Jan Zwart began as an electrician and became power station manager.
Another employee Marie Schutte obtained Springbok colours in angling. There were 1 180
operational staff at the station.
Camden also saw many sad
events in its history. An employee of boiler manufacturer ICAL fell through the steps and
was killed instantly. An employee from Howdens fell over a rail and was killed instantly.
Mr M D Mokoena burned in the coal staiths and died several hours later. There was a bomb
attack on the station in 1983, and Unit transformer number 8 burnt out in 1989. During the
severe drought in 1982 only one unit idled, as there was no water available to run the
satisfactorily. When the seventh meeting before the opening ceremony was held on Monday
the 25th September 1967, the committee felt that provision had been made for
every possible contingency. Barring anything unforeseen, the opening ceremony was expected
to take place without a hitch.
Members of the planning
committee went to Camden on the day before the ceremony for a last check on site. Each
committee member hoped for favourable weather for the occasion. But, the signs looked
At about 4 p.m. it started
raining and continued without a break into the early hours of the morning. At 3 a.m. an
emergency meeting was held in the power station to consider where, if possible, the site
of the ceremony could be shifted to if the rain continued. Fortunately it stopped raining
and operation "mopping up" began. When a chilly dawn broke, tired workers knew
that weeks of work had not been undone in a couple of hours.
So Camden was opened with
the dignity befitting such a memorable occasion in the history of Escom.
The station has six cooling
towers, each of which can cool approximately 581 900 litres per minute. These towers are
111,86 metres high above the pond sill and have a diameter of 54,25 metres at the top. The
diameter of the pond sill is 85,65 metres.
The boiler house is 352
metres long and 65 metres high, and the turbine hall 383 metres long and 36 metres high.
The overall thermal
efficiency of Camden was about 32 per cent and it is interesting to compare this
efficiency with that of Brakpan which was only 10 per cent.
Pulverized fuel fired
boilers provided the turbines with steam at a pressure and temperature of 11,03 MPa and
543° C at the boiler stop valve. At this temperature the steampipes were red hot. The
coal burnt by the boilers had a calorific value of 24,65 MJ/kg (air dried value) and a
surface-moisture content of 6 per cent. Under full load conditions, each boiler evaporated
226,8 kg/sec, and each is provided with a 100 per cent duty steam driven boiler feed pump,
and two 50 per cent electrically driven feed pumps for stand-by and starting-up purposes.
The 100 per cent duty boiler feed pump is
arranged to run on steam bled from the main turbine and the exhaust steam from the steam
feed pump turbine is exhausted to the de-aerator.
While, in general, in the
other Transvaal stations built before Camden the transverse arrangement of machines in the
turbine house had been adopted, they are arranged longitudinally at Camden. The reason for
this is that the overall length of a turbo-generator of capacity of up to about 125 MW
usually exceeds the width of a boiler of corresponding output and unless the boilers are
spaced more widely than is necessary, the sets cannot be accommodated longitudinally. For
units of 200 MW capacity and upwards, the width of the boilers is greater than the overall
length of the sets so that the 200 MW machines can be arranged longitudinally in the
turbine house without any increase in the length of the building. At the same time, an
economy is effected in the width of the turbine house with a subsequent saving in building
Of the total cost of R126
000 000 about 34 percent was spent on boiler plant; 25 per cent on turbo-generator plant
and foundations, and the rest on civil works, electrical plant, property, pumping stations
and feed mains, and the like. Of the total power station costs, nearly 80 per cent was
At maximum capacity, the
power station required about 109 megalitres of water per day of which the initial supply
was obtained from the Jericho Dam on the Mpama River 43 km away and additional supplies,
when required, from dams on the Ngwempisi and Usutu Rivers.
Of this 109 megalitres 82
megalitres, went to the cooling system where about two-thirds of it was evaporated. The
remaining one-third was purged in the cooling tower ponds. Some of the purged water was
used for pumping the ash from the boilers. The remaining 27 megalitres of river water was
clarified, 50 per cent of it being used for consumption on the property and in the
station, and the remaining 50 per cent further purified to distilled-water quality for
boiler make up requirements.
Camden consumed about 40
000 megalitres of water annually. However, intensive research was undertaken into the
treatment of water with a view to reducing the quantity used in such a power station.
Escom succeeded in reducing the quantity required by approximately 20 per cent.
Coal was supplied from the
colliery to the station by means of overland conveyors, which moved at the rate of 152
metres per minute and could convey approximately 726 metric tons per conveyor per hour. To
avoid any interruption to the coal supplies, the Trans-Natal Coal Mining Company was asked
to sink three shafts, any two of which could supply the stations full requirements.
These three shafts are known as the East, West and South shafts. Coal from the West and
East shafts was transported to the South shaft by means of a conveyor belt and then to the
power station. Camden consumed 5.5. million metric tons of coal annually.
Power stations operate 24
hour per day and the men working the different shifts must be readily available to take
over from the men going off duty, or to replace shift operators, which, for some or other
reason, are unable to go on duty. Similarly, maintenance staff must be able to get to the
power station in the shortest possible time in the event of a breakdown to restore
essential plant as quickly as possible.
View of the residential property with the
station in the background
When laying out a power
station such as Camden, special attention was paid to the siting of the residential
property with a view to the above considerations, enabling men on call to get to their
posts within minutes.
There were 356 permanent
houses built in the township to house all administration, operating and maintenance
personnel. Speed of erection, coupled with heaving ground conditions, led to the adoption
of several types of industrialised houses being utilised. These consist of concrete block
houses on pile foundations, timber sectional houses, asbestos cement polyurethane filled
and gypsum lined houses.
An interdenominational hall
was built and was utilised by all church groups.
The sports facilities
included four tennis courts, a bowling green, swimming bath, shooting range, rugby,
hockey, soccer and cricket fields and jukskei. The necessary clubhouses and changerooms
were also provided.
A recreation centre
comprising a hall, dining room, library, shop, bar and billard room was completed at the
end of 1973.
Several parks, situated
throughout the residential property, provided playgrounds for some 500 children at Camden.
Schooling was provided in Ermelo for these children, with a regular bus service operating
between Camden and Ermelo.
Due to an unforeseen
downturn in the South African economy and consequent negative growth in the electricity
demand, the decision was taken during 1989 to mothball Camden. The task fell to the
following power station managers to manage the mothballing period: Henry Daneel, Johann
van der Walt, Gert Clitz and Rob Worrall. The mothballing had a major effect on the
community. Mines closed down, the Ermelo infrastructure suffered, and many skills and much
knowledge were lost. The water plant, sewage, kitchen and compound are still intact. The
property has been sold to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the HV Yard
has been handed over to the Transmission Group. There are still 114 employees left at
Camden. The de-mothballing and re-commissioning of the station still hangs in the balance.
At the time of writing, the planned comeback is scheduled for 2007.