Mantashe’s power station plan an admission of failure

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe’s proposed revision of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is an admission of failure brimming with wishful thinking, energy policy and investment specialist Professor Anton Eberhard has said.

Mantashe published the proposed update to South Africa’s power generation plan for public comment in the Government Gazette on Thursday.

It outlines the electricity capacity set to come online between 2024 and 2030, and considers several scenarios for building or procuring additional power between 2031 and 2050.

Based on the forecasts in the IRP 2023, South Africa can expect at least another four years of load-shedding.

This was the “admission of failure” to solve South Africa’s energy crisis and end load-shedding that Eberhard referred to.

Eberhard added that the document failed to fulfil its stated purpose of ensuring electricity security while minimising environmental impacts and the cost of supply.

“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 said.

The IRP 2023 offers five paths to tackling South Africa’s future energy needs between 2031 and 2050.

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 relies on replacing Eskom’s coal-fired power stations with large amounts of gas in addition to photovoltaic solar and wind with battery storage systems.

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 amount.

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

According to the IRP, this has the lowest security of supply (the highest unserved energy) despite being the most expensive.

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

A fourth pathway proposes delaying the shutdown of Eskom’s coal power stations by ten years.

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 costs 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, the IRP 2023 states that this path provides marginally inadequate security of supply.

IRP 2023: Power system costs associated with the pathways studied

“SA’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 of gas,” Eberhard said.

“Yet Mantashe has failed to make progress in any of these areas in the 4½ years he’s been energy minister,” he added.

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

Eberhard said that South Africa’s IRP 2023 stands in stark contrast to the electricity plans of most of the rest of the world.

“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 to build 60GW of new capacity and expand the grid,” he continued.

“Stakeholders [commenting on IRP 2023] will expose its inadequacies. They will 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’”.

Eberhard said rapid innovation and cost-competitiveness are driving an inexorable transition to clean energy.

“The IRP 2023 published today is the last roll of the dice of a moribund energy system,” he stated.

“The only question for South Africa is how slow and costly or fast and competitive that transition will be.”

Energy analyst Chris Yelland agrees with Eberhard.

“In my view, the draft IRP 2023 is a shoddy piece of work, lacking in maturity and depth,” Yelland 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.”

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Mantashe’s power station plan an admission of failure