Government finally approves energy blueprint

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Mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe.
Mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe.

The government has gazetted the long-awaited new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019.

The adoption of the IRP 2019 comes after government had, on multiple occasions, failed to approve the IRP draft. As the uncertainty continued, the renewable energy sector blamed the authorities for investors holding back investment.

This comes as troubled power utility Eskom is struggling to keep the lights on. The company is currently implementing stage two load-shedding across the country.

Mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe presented the IRP to the media this morning.

The now approved IRP 2019 is the national electricity infrastructure development blueprint based on least-cost electricity supply and demand balance that takes into account security of supply and the environment, and will guide the country’s energy needs until 2030.

The release of the country’s energy layout was approved on Thursday by Cabinet.

The new plan consists of additional capacity of 1 500MW coal, 2 500MW hydro, 6 000MW photovoltaic, 14 400MW wind, 2 088MW storage and 3 000MW gas.

With the adopted IRP 2019, government says there is recognition that some of the technology options the country has to take require some level of long-range decisions.

“We try to harmonise this dichotomy, especially with regard to nuclear, gas and energy storage technologies, and which technologies require more consideration of future developments,” says government.

It notes the South African power system consists of generation options: 38GW installed capacity from coal, 1.8GW from nuclear, 2.7GW from pumped storage, 1.7GW from hydro, 3.8GW from diesel and 3.7GW from renewable energy.

At the coalface

Government says due to the expected decommissioning of approximately 24 100MW of coal power plants in the period beyond 2030 to 2050, “attention must be given to the path adopted to give effect to the energy mix and the preparation work necessary to execute the retirement and replacement of these plants”.

It says in order to ensure a socially-just transition, “the engagement process must commence to put in place the plans and interventions that mitigate against adverse impacts of the plant retirement programme on people and local economies. This plan will then inform the next iteration of the IRP update.”

Government says it continues to pursue a diversified energy mix that reduces reliance on a single or a few primary energy sources.

“The extent of decommissioning of the existing coal fleet due to end of design life and commitment to reduced emissions post-2030 could provide space for a completely different energy mix relative to the current mix.”

Additionally, in the period prior to 2030, the system requirements are largely for incremental capacity addition (modular) and flexible technology, to complement the existing installed capacity.

Escaping limbo

Government has been at the receiving end of sharp criticism from various quarters, including the renewable energy sector.

Industry experts voiced their concerns, saying an up-to-date IRP for electricity is essential for the country’s overall economic and energy planning process to meet demand for the next 20 to 40 years.

“We are in policy limbo at this stage; we are waiting for the IRP and the fact that we have waited for so long doesn’t make me happy. We had the IRP 2013 draft that was never approved; we then had the 2016 IRP draft also never approved; and this was followed by the 2018 draft that was never approved,” Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of South African Wind Energy Association, said at the time.

“We now have the 2019 draft and we are waiting with bated breath [to see] if it’s going to be approved. That, on its own, gives uncertainty in the industry. People want to make investments, but you can’t make them if there is uncertainty.”

Now, in a statement following its fortnightly meeting on Thursday, Cabinet said the approved IRP 2019 proposes nine interventions that respond to the country’s energy needs for the next decade.

“The plan remains within the policy framework of pursuing a diversified energy mix that reduces reliance on a single or few primary energy sources. It will be revised in line with the changing energy sector environment,” said Cabinet.

Most of the inputs received from the public, academics, experts from the energy sector and relevant stakeholders, such as the National Economic Development and Labour Council and the Portfolio Committee on Energy, were included.

In the IRP 2019, the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources says renewable energy combined with storage presents an opportunity to produce distributed power closer to where demand is and provide off-grid electricity to far-flung areas of the country.

“In addition to the sun and wind resources, SA has some of the world’s high grade resources in at least six key commodities that play a critical role in the global storage sector. These are vanadium, platinum, palladium, nickel, manganese, rear earths, copper and cobalt.”

Uncertainty in SA’s renewable energy policy had been holding back investment vital to ensure system reliability and capacity.

Adding to the policy drama was the recent removal of Karen Breytenbach as head of the country’s Independent Power Producer Office, a move criticised by politicians as well as industry.

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