The renewable energy sector in South Africa has welcomed the draft Integrated Resource Plant (IRP) 2018, but has also expressed concerns.
“While the IRP forecasting is rational in its choices, it unfortunately requires us to accept some overly optimistic assumptions,” said the South African Renewable Energy Council (Sarec). This included the ability of the two new coal-fired independent power producer projects to overcome legal and financing challenges in a bid to reach financial close.
Sarec said it was also concerned that the IRP comments had to be submitted prior to the publication of the delayed Eskom Medium-Term Strategic Objective (MTSO) report.
“We feel the commenting period should be extended to allow for sight of and inputs on it.”
Sarec said it also had concerns regarding the IRP 2018 modelling, including the high costs assumed for the grid connection of renewables, yet very low costs for coal. The plan also needed clarity on the low cost reduction assumed for renewables until 2050, it said.
“Detail is important in better understanding the contribution possibilities of all technologies going forward.”
The South African Energy Storage Association (Saesa), meanwhile, advocated for more clarity on energy storage, saying “a next-generation energy grid without energy storage is like a computer without a hard drive – severely limited”.
The association said it was concerned that distributed energy storage capacity appeared to have been "lumped in" with the 200 MW/y allocation for embedded generation.
Saesa welcomed the agreement between Eskom and the World Bank to invest in 175 MW or 800 MWh of energy storage systems in lieu of the abandoned concentrated solar power project. “However, we do not see this capacity mentioned anywhere in the draft IRP. This is a significant, committed investment that already has an impact on the price of Eskom power and should therefore be included in the IRP 2018,” the organisation argued.
It proposed that a separate, new allocation for distributed energy storage be created.
Saesa also noted that the draft IRP had also overlooked electric vehicles (EV).
“Electric vehicles possess the ability to decarbonise road transportation on a national and global scale. The adoption rate of electric vehicles (EVs) will be highly dependent on the development of the EV value chain within South Africa.”
The association proposed that work be undertaken with key stakeholders within the public and private sector and that demand forecast studies be done into the increased adoption of EVs in South Africa.
Saesa further suggested separating the allocations for gas into centralised gas generation and distributed gas generation.
In its presentation to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Energy, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa said the IRP 2018 had made significant improvements, including no new nuclear until 2030, more diversity in the energy mix and increased support for renewable energy.
However, it raised various concerns, including the prospect of fracking, which it described as "deeply problematic" and said required much more analysis. “Both the environmental impacts and economic benefits in South Africa are poorly understood.”
The WWF said South Africa’s contribution to climate change mitigation should mean no new coal capacity addition.
“The decommissioning of coal-fired power plants should be accelerated. Social consequences of shutting down large coal-fired stations needs to be strongly managed for a just transition."
The WWF also suggested that municipalities, which account for over 40% of the current electricity demand, transform and not be seen as "passive receivers" but as a resource. They should be active participants in the planning and supply of an integrated range of energy services and electricity supply and be able to procure energy directly from independent power producers.
The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia), meanwhile, suggested certain steps be taken towards a goal of achieving an 85% renewable electricity share in South Africa by 2050. These include promoting renewable energy infrastructure in declining mining regions, retiring the existing coal-fired power generation fleet in a controlled manner and building a new optimal mix of solar photovoltaic (PV), wind and gas.
“South Africa could realise reduced carbon emissions and lead the African transition to create a low-cost, low-carbon energy hub,” said Niveshen Govender on behalf of Sapvia. He said the combination of solar and wind would create 31% more jobs than coal.
He added that solar PV, wind and flexible power generators such as gas, hydro, biogas, batteries and fuel cells were the cheapest new-build mix for the South African power system from a pure cost perspective.
He also suggested that the final IRP should provide for some flexibility.
“In an uncertain world where electricity demand cannot be accurately predicted in the years ahead, and where disruptive new technologies are emerging, the IRP should also provide enabling flexible planning decisions of least regret.”