SA looks at shift away from coal

South Africa opened public hearings on a $125-billion energy plan on Tuesday to shift from dependency on coal while avoiding major price rises and a repeat of paralysing blackouts in 2008.

The draft plan proposes nearly halving the share of coal in the country’s energy mix to 48% by 2030, down from about 90% today, using nuclear power and renewable energy such as wind and solar to make up the difference.

The proposal, with an estimated price tag of R860-billion ($125-billion), would expand the country’s generation capacity by 52 248MW over the next 20 years, up from almost 40 000MW.

It also seeks to balance the push for cleaner energy with the need to keep electricity costs in check and ensure a stable supply, said Nelisiwe Magubane, Director General of the Department of Energy.

“We need to make sure that we have adequate electricity going into the future,” Magubane told a briefing on the proposal.

She called the rolling power cuts that rocked the country’s economy in 2008 “one of the worst crises in the history of South Africa”, and said the government and Eskom have made keeping the lights on a priority in planning the country’s energy supply for the next two decades.

“At the end of the day people want to have electricity. You might have all sorts of technologies in place but if you are not sure that they can deliver what you need at a specific time, then you are going to have a serious problem,” Magubane said.

“The experience we had in 2008 indicated that it’s more expensive not to have electricity.”

The proposal, called the “Integrated Resource Plan”, will be up for discussion at public meetings in November and December and will then undergo a revision to reflect public input.

Magubane said the government plans to adopt it as official policy in early 2011.

Major shift
Under the plan, the country’s energy mix in 2030 would rely on nuclear for 14% of electricity, renewable energy for 16% and coal for 48%, with the remaining 22% coming from a mix of local and imported hydropower and different gas technologies.

The turn toward nuclear would be a major shift in energy policy for South Africa, which currently has just one nuclear plant whose two reactors generate about 6% of its electricity.

Magubane said the government will consider opening nuclear power generation to the private sector to help cover the cost of building new plants, which can cost up to $15-billion depending on capacity.

She said the Cabinet will make a decision on the issue by April 2011.

The draft plan also analyses a “low-carbon scenario” that would include 36% coal-sourced electricity, 32% renewables and 12% nuclear. But planners found that programme would drive up costs by 50% and cut carbon emissions by just 10% more than the “balanced scenario” the draft plan endorses.

Magubane said South Africa cannot afford to put green energy ahead of economic development, saying the country needs outside assistance in the fight against climate change.

“If somebody could come tomorrow and say, ‘We are going to be assisting with funding and technological advancement,’ by all means we would go for the low-carbon scenario in a flash,” she said.—AFP

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