What South Africa needs to stop load-shedding is low-cost renewable energy complemented by flexible generation, according to energy expert Chris Yelland.
Speaking to CNBC Africa, Yelland said flexible generation comes in two forms – gas-to-power and battery energy storage.
He added that gas-to-power is quick to build and comes at a relatively low capital cost, which is important as Eskom does not have a lot of money to spend.
The combination of gas-to-power and variable renewable energy provides reliable, stable, and dispatchable energy.
Yelland said this is the future of energy and that South Africa does not need to build more coal-powered plants to solve the country’s electricity crisis.
“The new world of flexible power generation is turning the old concept of increasing base-load on its head,” he said.
“A generation plant which takes a long time to build and which is inflexible in its operation is susceptible to time and cost overruns.”
“We need short construction time, flexible generation, and lots of small plants rather than big plants to mitigate the risk associated with putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Renewable energy is the future for South Africa
Yelland said renewable energy is the future for South Africa, adding that many companies are keen to invest in this sector.
“The renewable energy sector is waiting in the wings with great expectation because the integrated resource plan for electricity recognises that most of the new capacity will come from wind, solar, battery storage, and gas-to-power,” he said.
Renewable energy forms by far the biggest part of the new energy build in South Africa and this sector is ready to take off.
However, there is a problem. Yelland said Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe “seems trapped in the world of the past and is being influenced by the coal and nuclear lobbies”.
He said because of his backward thinking, the Minister is not making the progress needed when it comes to renewable energy.
Money for renewable energy
Yelland said one thing is for sure – money is not the constraining factor when it comes to renewable energy projects in South Africa.
“There are very significant capital resources for new build generation in South Africa, so it is not a question of money,” he said.
“It is a question of policy issues, regulatory issues, and planning issues which are really holding the country back.”
He said the trouble is that the ministers concerned – Finance minister Tito Mboweni, Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe – seem to be living in a different world.
“There is a cognitive dissonance between their world and the reality of a failing Eskom. They still talk about Medupi and Kusile as magnificent plants,” said Yelland.
The reality is that these two mega-projects brought Eskom to its knees and that they are part of the problem, not the solution.
Yelland said politicians like Mboweni, Gordhan, and Mantashe are not facing the reality that Eskom is not too big to fail – it has already failed.
“The question is, what are we going to do about it?” he said.