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South Africa should not be over-reliant on renewable energy for its future electricity needs

6th December 2018 BY: Rebecca Campbell
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor
Jeffreys Bay wind farm
Photo by: Duane Daws/Creamer Media
Jeffreys Bay wind farm

The proposal of the country’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018 that wind, solar and gas generation account for a combined total of 42% of South Africa’s total installed electricity capacity by 2030 was most unwise, AFRA-NEST regional coordinator Dr Anthonie Cilliers has warned. (AFRA stands for the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology, while NEST is the acronym for Network for Education in Nuclear Science and Technology.) He stressed that renewables had a place in the country’s energy mix, but that South Africa should not overestimate the contribution they would make.

Under IRP 2018, by 2030 solar energy power stations using photovoltaic panels would account for 10% of the country’s total installed electricity generation capacity, with concentrated solar power adding another 1%, while wind power stations would account for 15%. Gas power plants would provide 16%.

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The problem was that, worldwide, the actual contribution of renewables to daily electricity generation was much lower than their installed capacity, meaning that, in practice, South Africa would be heavily dependent on gas-generated electricity. And South Africa had, as yet, no domestic source of gas (it was not yet known if the country had any commercially viable shale gas reserves). Nor could anyone forecast what the gas price would be in the future.

He cited Germany as an example. Maximum electricity demand in Germany was 77 GW. The country’s total installed wind capacity came to 58.59 GW and its total installed solar capacity was 45.33 GW, giving a combined wind and solar installed capacity of 103.92 GW. This amounted to 134% of peak German electricity demand. Yet wind and solar combined actually generated no more than 28.5% of Germany’s electricity. With its programme of phasing out nuclear power, the country had again become heavily dependent on coal-produced electricity.

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He also pointed out that, currently, electricity from renewable sources, provided by independent power producers (IPPs), accounted for some 23% of Eskom’s total electricity generating costs (these are not the same as the prices paid by consumers) but only provided about 4% of the electricity that Eskom supplied to its customers. He noted that the IPPs were paid even when they did not produce any electricity and that the payments to them were fully indexed for inflation. By 2023/24 the investors into the IPPs would have recovered all their investments and thereafter would simply be accruing profits.

“We need a balanced [energy] mix,” he affirmed. “And we need energy security in this country.”

Cilliers was giving a briefing at the Johannesburg head office of the Free Market Foundation (FMF). Both FMF communications manager Jayne Boccaleone and FMF executive director Leon Louw stressed that their organisation did not support any particular energy technology. “We are looking for low cost, reliable energy,” observed Boccaleone. 

EDITED BY: Creamer Media Reporter
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