The Department of Energy (DoE) will on Tuesday November 22 release the long-waited draft of the updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity, as well as the draft Integrated Energy Plan (IEP).
The release, which will take place in Pretoria, follows the Cabinet decision of November 2, to direct the department to release the two documents for public consultation.
Much attention is likely to be given to the contents of the updated IRP, especially the allocation for any new nuclear capacity in the future electricity mix.
The current iteration of the plan, known as IRP 2010, proposes the development of 9 600 MW of new nuclear capacity by 2030. This would represent a major scale up from the 1 800 MW of nuclear generation currently available at Koeberg, Africa’s only nuclear power station.
However, a draft update of the plan – published in 2013, but never approved by Cabinet – included a lower demand assumption than was the case in 2010. It also indicated that new nuclear should either be delayed, scaled back or even abandoned should the technology fail to meet a cost threshold of $6 500/kW.
Since 2013, demand has fallen even further from the assumptions contained in the IRP 2010, while prices associated with onshore wind and solar photovoltaic technologies have fallen materially.
As a result some commentators are calling for South Africa to consider transitioning to an energy mix that is led by renewables and supported by flexible generation technologies, such as gas. Under such a scenario, the role of nuclear would either reduce significantly when compared with the 2010 guideline, or fall away entirely.
Nuclear proponents, however, argue that nuclear plants are still required not only to fill the baseload gap that will be created when some of Eskom’s mature coal-fired power stations retire, but also to meet South Africa’s ‘peak, plateau and decline’ carbon emission targets.
It is anticipated that the new draft IRP will reflect a moderated electricity demand profile, as well as be extended beyond the 2030 timeframe to 2050. It is unclear, however, what cost assumptions will be used for the various technologies, including nuclear and renewables.
Nevertheless, it is conceivable that, should nuclear be included in the mix, that the pace of deployment will be slowed in line with a government commitment that South Africa proceed only at a “pace and scale” that is affordable to the country.
That this view could prevail was reinforced by recent statements by State-owned utility Eskom, which was recently designated as the owner, operator and procurer of any new nuclear capacity.
At the group’s recent interim results presentation, generation executive Matshela Koko, who has emerged as arguably the group’s strongest nuclear proponent, said construction would proceed on an incremental basis. Koko argued that it would probably begin with two reactors, with a combined capacity of between 2 400 MW and 3 200 MW.
The anticipated timeframe for nuclear will, therefore, be closely watched, with the 2023 date for the first reactors outlined in the IRP2010 seen as unachievable and even the 2030 deadline appearing ambitious.
For its part, Eskom has stressed the need for at least five years of planning to take the project to the point of a “design freeze” – a process that would arguably only proceed in earnest following a bidding phase, the selection of a preferred bidder and the finalisation of the funding arrangements.
That said, there is also strong opposition to the publication of any nuclear request for proposals ahead of the finalisation of the IRP, with the release of the draft IRP signalling but the start of the comment period.
For instance, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, or Outa, wrote to Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, The Presidency, the National Treasury and the National Energy Regulator of South Africa demanding that any new build nuclear project be placed on hold, until the IRP is “credibly updated and subjected to public input”.
Less public attention is likely to be given to the IEP, which aims to guide future energy infrastructure investments over the period up to 2050 and identify and recommend policy options to shape the future energy landscape.
However, with lingering uncertainty over the country’s future approach to liquid fuels, gas, coal and renewable energy, it is hoped that the IEP will offer some insight into the possible future roadmaps.