South Africa has a new energy plan

It’s five years late, but we now have a blueprint for energy. It calls for a mix, with wind and gas challenging coal for dominance.

The Integrated Resource Plan 2018 was released by energy minister Jeff Radebe on Monday. After 60 days for public comments, it will be sent to Cabinet for final sign-off. Radebe said at a press briefing that all this would be done before the end of the year.

This is the national energy plan, which the energy department uses as a blueprint to put out tenders for new power plants. The original plan comes from 2010, and is meant to be updated every two years. But a 2013 update was squashed by Cabinet, because it called for a mix that was not in line with what the then political leadership of South Africa wanted.

With changed leadership, this plan calls for a gradual but substantial change in South Africa’s energy mix. At the moment, some 80% of our energy is generated by massive coal-fired power plants. Most of these are on Mpumalanga’s highveld.

These plants are old, having been built in the 60s and 70s. Eskom will have decommissioned 12 000-megawatts worth of capacity from these by 2030. This is a third of the utility’s generating capacity. Most of its coal-fired power will then come from the two mega-stations at Medupi and Kusile.

The 2010 plan called for these plants to be replaced by new nuclear and coal plants. But that plan was based on the economy growing by over 5% a year, and lots of new demand for energy. This hasn’t happened. And, as the Mail & Guardian has reported, that new nuclear build would have cost as much as R1-trillion.

A lot of money. And a big opportunity for corruption. M&G has also reported that finance ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan lost their jobs, in part, because they opposed the nuclear build.

READ MORE: Nuclear build tied to outdated Integrated Resource Plan

The only reasons tenders weren’t signed off for new nuclear plants is down to a 2017 court victory by the Southern African Faith Communities Initiative. This stopped plans and forced the government to start over on its paperwork.

At the launch of the 2018 plan, Radebe said that energy demand is dropping each year. Demand now is the same as it was in 2007, and is 30% less than was projected in the 2010 plan. A big new nuclear build is not needed.

Overall, less energy is needed from the grid. Eskom will also be providing less of the energy, with private companies competing to provide a mix of energy. The big change will be in going from a grid that is based on burning coal, to one where wind and solar energy provide energy. Gas power plants will support these for times where wind and solar provide less energy.

Gas plants are doing this job worldwide, because they can turn on and off quickly. Coal-fired power plants can’t. Gas is also cheaper, with huge reserves of gas being found off the coast of Mozambique.

By 2030, the grid will look like this:

  • 34 000-megawatts from coal
  • 11 930-megawatts from gas
  • 11 442-megawatts from wind
  • 7 958-megawatts from solar photovoltaic
  • 4 696-megawatts from hydroelectric
  • 2 912-megawatts from pumped storage
  • 1 860-megawatts from nuclear  
Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.
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