South Africa’s R6-trillion plans for new power stations — including nuclear and clean coal

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe has published his revised Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in the Government Gazette for public comment.

The rest of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet approved the document for publication in the second week of December.

Mantashe’s delay in publishing a revised IRP drew criticism throughout 2023, as his department missed several self-imposed deadlines for tabling the document.

IRP 2023 considers two time horizons. Horizon One is for 2023–2030 and focuses on stabilising South Africa’s electricity supply to end rotational power cuts.

Horizon Two is the plan for 2031–2050 to ensure South Africa has sufficient generating capacity to meet demand for the coming decades.

For the near-term plan, the IRP considers two Eskom energy availability factor assumptions.

The first assumes that power station availability will hover around 50% until at least 2030, while the second assumes plant performance will recover to 67% by 2025.

IRP 2023: Overview of existing fleet EAF assumptions (%)

IRP 2023 envisages South Africa procuring a combination of gas, wind, photovoltaic solar, wind, and battery storage to reduce and ultimately end load-shedding.

This includes:

  • 6,000MW of gas — 3,000MW from Eskom, and 3,000MW from independent producers
  • 1,500MW of photovoltaic solar
  • 3,000MW of wind
  • 2,000MW of battery storage, to be constructed by 2027

The table below summarises the plan per the IRP’s analysis of Horizon One.

IRP 2023: Emerging Plan from Horizon One Analysis

For the period 2031–2050, the IRP considers five different pathways. These are a reference case, transitioning the power system to renewables (including and excluding nuclear), delaying the shutdown of coal power stations, and deploying cleaner coal technologies with renewables.

The reference case is the cheapest path with a total system cost of R5.9 trillion and allows South Africa to choose technology combinations without restrictions.

It should be noted that the total system cost includes the cost of unserved energy (COUE), which is by far the greatest component of the overall figure.

Transitioning the power system to renewables builds the most new generation capacity by 2050 and is the most expensive option at R8.4 trillion.

However, according to the IRP, this has the lowest security of supply (the highest unserved energy) — with or without new nuclear power being built.

Including nuclear in the renewable transition lowers the total system cost to R6.3 trillion.

Delaying the shutdown of Eskom’s existing coal power stations proposes extending the lives of specific plants by ten years.

Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said last year that the Plexos energy modelling tool was used for this analysis.

This pathway has the lowest new build requirements. It also “adequately maintains security of supply,” the IRP 2023 states.

It has a total system cost of R6.5 trillion.

The fifth pathway allows for up to 6,000MW of cleaner coal technologies to be deployed and has a cost of R6.1 trillion.

This includes a combination of Fluidised Bed Combustion and pulverised fuel technologies with carbon capture, utilisation, and storage.

Although this has the second-least build requirements, it provides marginally inadequate security of supply.

The graphs below from IRP 2023 show its analysis of build costs and unserved energy for these five paths.

“Due to the magnitude of their total system cost differences, the renewable and nuclear, the delayed shutdown; and repowering warrant further techno-economic studies to ascertain their cost structures,” it states.

IRP 2023: Power system costs associated with the pathways studied
IRP 2023: Unserved Energy as an indicator of security of supply (higher is worse)

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South Africa’s R6-trillion plans for new power stations — including nuclear and clean coal