9 ways the latest energy plan aims to solve load shedding

Partners at law firm Webber Wentzel, Alexandra Felekis and Jason van der Poel, have co-authored an analysis of the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan gazetted by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on Friday.

The IRP is important because it outlines government's plan for the future of energy generation.

The 100-page document promotes an energy mix which includes coal, nuclear, gas, hydro power and renewables. Coal will still be a significant contributor (59%) to the country's energy generation.

It does not outright put forward how to fix Eskom – which is plagued with financial and operational challenges, and last week reintroduced load shedding after a conveyor belt carrying coal from Grootgeluk Coal Mine to Medupi power station in Limpopo failed. Mantashe said at a briefing ahead of the document that he could not answer to matters relating to Eskom – such as its unbundling – as the entity falls under the Department of Public Enterprises.

However, the energy plan does acknowledge the impact of load shedding on the economy, and the need to find a balance with supply and demand of energy.

Here's what the IRP2019 proposes, and how – according to Felekis and Van der Poel – that will likely impact sustainable electricity supply.

1. Ensure reserves are available: The plan proposes immediate initiation of a medium-term power purchase programme to create reserve capacity. Mantashe has said it is important to secure additional capacity to increase reserve margins.

2Extend Koeberg's lifespan: The IRP2019 recommends immediate that technical and regulatory work should begin immediately for the 20-year extension of the life of the Koeberg nuclear power plant. The nuclear power station, based in the Western Cape, is expected to reach the end of its life by 2024.

Mantashe said government is in talks with Eskom, which owns the power station, to extend the design life of the station for another 20 years.

3. Bring in gas: Support the development of gas infrastructure by converting all diesel-fired power plants (peakers) to gas. Mantashe punted gas as being a complement to intermittent renewable energy in order to meet demand during peak hours.

Government is considering indigenous gas such as coal-bed methane and locally recoverable shale and coastal gas, Mantashe said. The IRP2019 makes provision for gas from 2024.

4. Support Eskom as it reduces emissions: The plan highlights the need to help Eskom, financially and legally, to comply with minimum emissions standards. SA is a signatory of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which means government has committed to reduce emissions in the sector, Mantashe said.

5Minimise impact as plants are decommissioned: Approximately 24 100 MW of coal power plants will be decommissioned between 2030 to 2050, and the energy plan calls for convening a team to put together a just transition plan, within a year, in consultation with all social partners.

The panel will engage on plans and interventions to mitigate adverse impacts on people and local economies due to the plant retirement programme.

6. Keep supply stable: As stated, government has taken a decision not to "sterilise" the development of its coal resources for purposes of power generation, but instead plan for energy and an environment that supports a just transition.

According to Mantashe, while the country transitions to using less carbon-emitting technologies, in addition to workers, communities in affected areas must not be left worse off.

7. Address investor confidence: The plan states that the current annual build limits on renewables (such as wind and PV) will be retained until the report on the just transition is released.

Annual build limits on renewables do not significantly impact the projected capacity up to the year 2030, it notes. The build limits help provide a pipeline of projects for investment, which addresses investor confidence, according to the IRP.

"In the long run and taking into account the policy of a diversified energy mix, the annual build limits will have to be reviewed in line with demand and supply requirement," it says.

8. Develop nuclear: Commence preparations for a nuclear build programme to the extent of 2 500 MW at a pace and scale that the country can afford because it is, according to the plan, "a no-regret option in the long term".

Mantashe told journalists that nuclear would only be pursued at a pace and scale that the country can afford. Government is also looking to develop small modular reactors as they are a more manageable investment than a large fleet.

9. Build strategic relationships: South Africa must support strategic power projects in neighbouring countries that enable the development of cross-border transmission infrastructure.

The country entered into a treaty for the Grand Inga Hydropower Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 2 500 MW offtake, the IRP2019 notes. The treaty allows for power to be transmitted to SA, across the DRC, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana into South Africa.

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