Solar and wind take centre stage in South Africa’s energy plans

In South Africa, solar and wind are in, and coal is gradually on the way out.

That’s the key takeaway from the latest Integrated Resource Plan, which maps out the energy mix for the next decade. It envisions the nation’s total electricity-production capacity rising to 77,834 megawatts by 2030 — with the bulk of the increase coming from renewable sources — from about 52,104 megawatts.

A switch to more green energy comes as South Africa faces pressure to meet emissions-reduction targets. State power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. produces about 95% of the nation’s power, the bulk of it from coal-fired power plants — many of which are approaching retirement and don’t comply with environmental standards.

A first version of the resource plan was adopted in 2011. While the government said it would be regularly updated and published several drafts, they were never approved. The latest iteration of the blueprint was published in the Government Gazette on Friday.

Power Mix

It envisions an additional 14,400 megawatts of power being produced from wind, 6,000 megawatts from solar plants, 3,000 megawatts from gas and diesel, 2,500 megawatts from hydropower and 1,500 megawatts from coal by 2030. Under a previous draft of the plan, the nation would derive significantly more power from gas, but its contribution to the energy mix was reduced because it would have taken too long to bring plants on line.

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association welcomed the release of the plan and said the significant allocation toward renewable energy boded well for the industry. It called on the government to swiftly call for new bids from independent power producers to develop projects to supply the national grid.

The new plan foresees the completion of a project to extend the life of Koeberg, the nation’s sole atomic plant, by 20 years to 2044, but no additional nuclear capacity being added before 2030.

New modular nuclear plants may be built in the future, but at a pace and scale the country can afford, while investment will be made in more efficient coal technology, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Pretoria, the capital.

Former President Jacob Zuma championed a program to add 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy to the grid from 2029. Critics of the plan argued that it wasn’t affordable and it was shelved shortly after Zuma was forced to quit in February last year.

Coal’s Contribution

Coal will continue to play a significant but declining role in electricity generation for the foreseeable future, accounting for 59% of output by 2030. Nuclear will contribute 5%, hydropower 8%, solar 6%, wind 18% and gas and storage 2%.

Some of Eskom’s coal-fired plants will “be around for a long time,” Mantashe said. “We are cautioning people who say coal is coming to an end.”

Eskom is expected to shut coal-fired plants that produce about 10,590 megawatts of energy within a decade, while just 7,232 megawatts of new production capacity that utilizes the fuel will come on stream, according to the plan. The bulk of that will come from the Medupi and Kusile power stations, which are currently under construction.

Eskom, which has amassed 450 billion rand ($30 billion) in debt and is reliant on government bailouts to remain solvent, has instituted rotating blackouts since Wednesday after a series of breakdowns at its plants. The energy blueprint doesn’t discuss how the utility can be fixed — that will be addressed in separate plans that the government intends releasing by the end of the month.

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Solar and wind take centre stage in South Africa’s energy plans