Nuclear and renewables are being pitted against each other in South Africa, which is not helpful in the energy solution space, says professional engineer Dr Anthonie Cilliers, arguing that the technologies should complement one another as part of the broader energy mix.
Speaking to Engineering News Online on the sidelines of the AtomExpo 2018, in Sochi, Russia, this week, he noted that South Africa needed to adapt its financing, technology and especially communication to save its tainted nuclear reputation.
“The negative picture that has been painted of nuclear is not accurate and has been initiated by a small group of antinuclear lobbyists. In South Africa, there is a massive opportunity for independent power producers to come into the market and they see nuclear energy as a massive threat,” he said.
He highlighted that, globally, there was massive growth in the installation of renewable energy sources and, especially in countries targeting socioeconomic growth, also massive growth in nuclear build projects.
“It not only harms the nuclear sector, but also the reputation of the renewable energy sector. When assessing various energy technologies on its own merit, nuclear will always form an integral part of the energy mix,” he said.
Cilliers added that nuclear in its current form was a great partner for renewables, but that it requires a large capital investment; however, “the moment you start running the plant, it is extremely cheap.”
He added that nuclear could play out well in a harmonised environment.
“If you use nuclear for baseload supply, topped off with renewable energy when its available, a low-carbon solution could be reached. The argument that the market isn’t big enough to sustain both is simply not true.
“In fact, it is the only way to balance the security of supply, environmental impact and cost trilemma, and meet our climate change commitments. We will need new models where private investors can also invest into nuclear and earn a return quickly,” he said.
Cilliers added that, in South Africa, there was a common belief that there was an abundance of excess electricity, and that nuclear was not needed in the short term.
"That is not entirely true, as the excess electricity stems from the recent high electricity prices which, in turn, are constraining our economic growth; our coal plants are also ageing and, within the next decade we will lose a big part of our capacity,” he said.