/ 2 February 2024

Energy development institute raises questions about transmission in South Africa’s energy blueprint

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Eskom told the Mail & Guardian it had only received a R9 billion World Bank loan to decommission its coal-fired Komati power station. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The chief executive of the South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) has asked the department of mineral resources and energy to clarify how the 14 000km of transmission lines required by 2032 to expand the electricity grid will be sourced, given that it took Eskom nine years to install just 4 300km.

Extending transmission lines is part of Eskom’s turnaround plan to boost energy supply and alleviate load-shedding by connecting more renewable energy from independent producers to the national grid.

Last year the cabinet gave the green light to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s long-awaited integrated resource plan (IRP), which 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.

But in a preliminary view of the draft, Sanedi chief executive Titus Mathe said: “The document highlights that more than 14 000km of new transmission lines are required by 2032. It needs to be explained, given Eskom’s record of only building 4 000km in nine years. That is, how is Eskom going to build 14 000 km in eight years?”  he said.

Mathe said the draft IRP 2023, which will replace the 2019 version of the plan, should indicate how the lines would be expanded before the end of a public consultation period “so that the public can engage with the plan”. 

The IRP plan was updated after the 2019 document — which proposed the addition of about 29 000 megawatts of extra generation capacity by 2030, including 20 000MW from solar and wind sources — was criticised for being outdated.

As part of the transition to cleaner energy sources, Eskom plans to decommission all its coal power plants by 2035.

But Mathe said the details surrounding the closure of the power stations were left open-ended, adding that the document did not mention the plan to ensure that Eskom complies with the country’s carbon emissions rules. 

“If exemptions are not granted or it is uneconomical to extend the life of some of the power stations, then security of supply and grid stability may be a challenge,” he said.

He said the IRP document must “explicitly state” that the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment would give an exemption for the remaining power plants still operating after 2035 to continue emitting carbon and other pollutants.

Environmental groups such as the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork and Earthlife Africa wrote to the mineral resources and energy department director general, Jacob Mbele, asking for an extension of the period for public comment.

It said without the extension, and the provision of other information upon which the IRP was based, “it is not possible to analyse, understand and comment on the proposals, outputs and conclusions of the draft IRP in a meaningful way”.

The groups said the limited public participation process being conducted by the mineral resources and energy department would “exclude very significant parts of the public from the consultation process and will raise concerns of a lack of will to engage seriously with stakeholders and the public on the far-reaching matters covered by the draft IRP”.

The department has not yet responded to the Mail & Guardian’s request for comment by the time of publication.