/ 11 December 2023

Mantashe’s draft electricity plan finally approved by cabinet

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe. (Ntswe Mokoena)

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s long-awaited integrated resource plan (IRP) update got the green light from the cabinet on Friday.

In a media briefing on Monday, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni announced that, although the draft has not yet been gazetted, it will be released for public comment. The IRP is the electricity infrastructure plan that looks at power demand and how it will be supplied.

“The draft IRP 2023 reviews the approved IRP 2019 and covers two time horizons, namely the 2030 and 2050 time horizons.

“Several key assumptions used in the IRP 2019 have significantly changed, including the electricity demand projection, Eskom’s energy availability factor, Eskom’s coal-fired power plants shutdown plan and the cost of new power-generation technologies,” she said.

The intention was to update the plan every two years, however, to date, only two versions exist — the initial 2010 plan and the amended version enacted in 2019. 

This updating process is a key performance target for Mantashe, who is in charge of developing the IRP, and has received criticism for his failure to table an amended plan. 

The IRP serves as a long-term blueprint for the country’s electricity infrastructure, detailing the anticipated electricity demand, its means of supply and how much it would cost.

The update of the IRP comes after the 2019 document was criticised for being outdated because it needed to address solutions for South Africa’s pressing need for more electricity by securing enough new generation capacity.

The 2019 IRP proposed the addition of about 29 000 megawatts of extra generation capacity by 2030, including 20 000MW from solar and wind sources.

But this falls significantly short of the 60 000MW of renewable generation capacity Eskom and the Presidential Climate Commission have said the country needs over the next 10 years. This additional capacity is crucial to compensate for decommissioning ageing coal plants.

Under the administration of former president Jacob Zuma, the IRP encountered many delays due to his support for an extensive 9 600MW nuclear project.

The 2019 IRP document called for the closure of five coal-fired plants (including Komati, which decommissioned last year) by 2030. But Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has previously argued that it needs to be re-examined to enable South Africa to stabilise the energy grid before moving away from coal.

Ntshavheni explained that the 2023 IRP “has two horizons”.

The first shows the planning guidance up to 2030 — it looks at the proposed decommissioning dates for Eskom’s ageing coal-fired power stations. There are five scenarios, containing a baseline case and one simulating the possible enhancements in coal plant efficiency aligned with Eskom’s generation recovery strategy.

The second horizon explores the evolution of South Africa’s energy mix from 2030 to 2050. This section looks at new energy sources and the country’s capacity to harness its renewable energy resources.

“Essentially, it is [about] issues that have to do with our ability to be able to exploit our renewable energy endowments. Of course, there are linkages to the availability of transmission,” Ramokgopa said in a recent media briefing.

He added that one of those horizons “does anticipate that for you to meet the crisis that is confronting us, there is a need for you to rethink the schedule for the decommissioning of power stations”. 

“It articulates how it arrives at that using some Plexos modelling [the world’s most powerful energy market simulation], which is a tried-and-tested, universally accepted modelling on how you model investment in energy demand and all of that. That has been the basis of how the modelling was done,” he said.