South Africa’s New Energy Plan Sparks Controversy and Concerns

A critical analysis of the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2023 and its implications for South Africa’s electricity sector.

by Motoni Olodun

South Africa’s draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2023 has been met with mixed reactions from various stakeholders, who question its credibility, feasibility, and alignment with the country’s long-term goals.

The IRP 2023, which was released for public comment on January 4, outlines the country’s electricity generation mix and capacity for the next decade and beyond. It is based on several scenarios and assumptions that take into account the changing dynamics of the electricity industry, such as the demand projection, the performance of existing coal plants, and the costs of new technologies.

However, some of the key changes and choices in the draft plan have raised eyebrows and concerns among energy experts, business groups, and civil society organizations.

One of the most contentious issues is the increased allocation for gas-to-power, which has been raised from 3,000 MW in the IRP 2019 to 7 220 MW in the IRP 2023. This would result in a total installed capacity of gas and diesel generation of 11 050 MW by 2030, up from 6 380 MW in the current plan.

According to the draft plan, gas-to-power is seen as a flexible and reliable option to address the prevailing generation capacity constraints and system adequacy challenges, especially given the erratic performance of the aging coal fleet. The plan also states that gas-to-power could enable the integration of more renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, which are variable and intermittent.

However, critics of the gas-to-power expansion argue that it is not in line with the country’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a low-carbon economy. They also point out that gas-to-power is not the cheapest or the most sustainable option, as it depends on the availability and affordability of gas, which is mostly imported and subject to volatile prices and geopolitical risks.

Moreover, some analysts suggest that gas-to-power could crowd out the potential for more renewable energy investment, which is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly option for South Africa. The draft plan proposes a significant reduction in the allocation for utility-scale solar photovoltaic and wind, which have been slashed by about 30% and 55% respectively by 2030, compared to the IRP 2019.

Another issue that has drawn criticism is the inclusion of load shedding until 2027 unless the energy availability factor (EAF) of the Eskom coal fleet recovers dramatically from about 50% currently to between 66% and 69%. This implies that the draft plan is not sufficient to meet the anticipated demand and ensure the security of supply and that the country will continue to suffer from power cuts and economic losses for the next few years.

Business Unity South Africa (Busa), which represents the interests of the private sector, has expressed its disappointment and frustration with the draft plan, saying that it is “thin on detail” and lacks credibility. Busa has also requested the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to provide the techno-economic information and data that have been used to inform the assumptions and scenarios in the draft plan, without which it says it is impossible to assess its validity and implications.

Busa has also called for more public participation and consultation on the draft plan, including public hearings and scrutiny by the social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). The DMRE has set the deadline for written comments as February 23 but has not indicated whether it will host any hearings or engage with Nedlac before finalizing the plan.

The draft plan has also been challenged by civil society organizations, such as the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), which has launched a legal action against the DMRE for failing to comply with the requirements of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) and disclose the information and data underlying the draft plan. The CER argues that the public has the right to access this information to make informed and meaningful submissions on the draft plan.

The IRP 2023 is a crucial document that will shape the future of South Africa’s electricity sector and its impact on the economy, the environment, and society. It is therefore imperative that the draft plan is subjected to rigorous and transparent scrutiny and debate, and that it reflects the best available evidence and the best interests of the country and its people.

Source: Engineering News

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