New energy plan to stop load-shedding a mess

South Africa’s new draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) fails to fulfil its purpose of ensuring electricity security while minimising environmental impacts and the cost of supply.

This is the view of energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard, who said the draft IRP is an admission of failure to eliminate load-shedding.

His comments come after the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy published the new draft IRP in the Government Gazette on 4 January 2024 for public comment.

The draft document explains that the IRP is a “living plan” to be reviewed regularly and aims to ensure the security of electricity supply by balancing supply with demand while considering the environment and total cost of supply.

However, Eberhard said the plan fails to do so.

He said South Africa’s IRP 2023 admits much “unserved energy” for at least the next four years.

“It advocates delaying the closure of old coal power stations, working around minimum emission standards and provides dodgy conclusions on a least-cost power system without detailing its input assumptions,” he explained.

“South Africa’s IRP 2023 is a stitch-up, with pre-determined outcomes in line with what the Energy Minister has been advocating – wishful thinking around improvements in Eskom power station performance, delays in coal decommissioning, ‘clean’ coal, nuclear energy, and lots and lots of gas.”

Despite advocating for these solutions, Eberhard said Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has failed to make progress in any of these areas in the four and a half years he has been in his position. 

“The only thing he has actually achieved is a slow-down in renewable energy investments – a measly 150 MW from projects he’s procured have actually connected to the grid,” Eberhard said.

He explained that South Africa’s IRP 2023 stands in stark contrast to the electricity plans of most of the rest of the developed world, which sees the optimal power mix as being solar, wind, gas, and storage.

“One of the disastrous consequences of this IRP is that there will be no acceleration in publicly procured renewable energy or enabling regulatory reforms, and South Africa will get nowhere close to the R1.2 trillion investment it needs in 60 GW of new capacity and grid expansion,” he said.

The Gazette invited written comments on the draft IRP, which can be submitted on or before 23 February 2024.

Eberhard said stakeholders will use this opportunity to expose the plan’s inadequacies, demand more techno-economic rigour, call for more transparency in cost assumptions and point to the costs to our economy of embarking on this “Neanderthal plan”.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland

Energy analyst Chris Yelland said he agreed with Eberhard’s analysis. “In my view, the draft IRP 2023 is a shoddy piece of work, lacking in maturity and depth,” he said.

“South Africa has a wealth of power system modelling competencies which have clearly been ignored in the preparation of this draft IRP.” 

“How this work was approved by the Cabinet for commencement of the public and stakeholder consultation process is beyond me.”

Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies senior economist Gaylor Montmasson-Clair also highlighted that the draft, which excludes green hydrogen-related developments, looks to add only 29.3 GW of generation capacity between 2024 and 2030, with 2.7 GW already under construction. 

He said this is much less than what is deemed necessary by the Presidential Climate Commission, which is 50 GW to 60 GW of renewable energy, with storage.

“On a side note, while it is understandably not the focus of the IRP, we also need a much more significant rollout – and no yearly gaps – to realise the industrial development ambitions of the South African Renewable Energy Masterplans (SAREM),” he said.

He explained that, technologically, South Africa should be looking at: 

  • A lot of gas – about 7.2 GW with likely 1.4 GW
  • 6.3 GW of distributed generation, although the reality will be much higher
  • 3.6 GW of solar and 4.5 GW of wind
  • 3.9 GW of battery storage
  • No new coal, but a delayed shutdown of some plants

“The plan considers in its analysis the contribution of the private sector market, but it is unclear how this is reflected in the proposed pathway,” he added.

“The document also looks at the 2030 to 2050 period but actually does not put forward a proposed pathway. Only scenarios are considered for now.”

He added that there are many questions left unanswered about the plan’s assumptions, like overall demand, expected rollout, technology costs, and grid compatibility.

The plan is also missing an overall cost trajectory, he said.


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