MATHS AND POLITICS
Scathing criticisms were levelled at the department of energy’s new draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) this week in Boksburg, especially the “illogical” bias against renewable energy.
Industry groups and the minister of energy’s own jilted advisers echoed major complaints, including that government has set aside far too little time for consultations, while withholding crucial information that makes it hard to consult in the first place.
The IRP is arguably the most important piece of state planning South Africa has as it determines billions in rands of power investments.
The Energy Intensive User Group of Southern Africa (EIUG), a lobby of Eskom’s biggest industrial customers complained that the consultation period, which ends on February 15, is too short. It has written to the department asking for consultations to be extended.
Crucially, the IRP’s contentious assumptions around the costs of various technologies are also still unknown.
The EIUG’s main criticism of the IRP is that it makes “overly optimistic” assumptions about how much power South Africa will need. This means any decision about nuclear or other base load stations can safely be postponed, said the EIUG’s Jay Morris.
“Of all the technology options, nuclear has the biggest risk of time and cost overruns,” he said.
Advisers to Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson used the event to publically release the serious criticisms they had made before the plan was unveiled.
Recommendations made by the Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy (Mace) were, however, summarily ignored. In a note it sent to Joemat-Pettersson on October 31, it criticised the “illogical” decision to assume higher prices for solar power than the older 2013 IRP had done, “while, in reality, prices have fallen substantially”.
When it comes to wind power, the new IRP assumes exactly the same prices that had been listed in 2013, despite the actual price of recent projects in South Africa already being far lower.
But even if the unrealistically high prices are used, the model would still call for massive renewable expansion and no nuclear in the foreseeable future.
An arbitrary “build limit” was, however, imposed on renewables. This is the only reason nuclear features at all. The IRP “base case” calls for new nuclear power to be online by 2037.
Mace is scathing of this apparently baseless gerrymandering of the model. There is nothing unrealistic about building the huge amounts of renewables, augmented by gas plants, that an unconstrained model would advise, it wrote to Joemat-Pettersson.
“It is illogical to impose annual build limits to solar power and wind, and, more so, to only limit these two technologies and none of the others,” read the note.
Speaking to City Press, Mace member and professor at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business Anton Eberhard said that nuclear energy “does not appear in the base case, or any other scenario, unless artificial constraints are placed on the amount of wind and solar that can be built in any one year”.
“There is no rational basis for restricting solar and wind. Gas provides a back-up, so reliability is assured and grid connections will not be a constraint.”
Joemat-Pettersson has, however, already jumped to the defence of the renewable energy limits. In an opinion piece for the Business Report recently, she asserted that “renewable energy cannot be unconstrained”.