Cape Town – Nuclear energy has been forced into the electricity planning model, according to energy policy expert Professor Anton Eberhard.
He was responding to the Department of Energy's (DoE)’s draft update to the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010-2030 on Tuesday, which proposes 20 385 MW of nuclear coming online between 2037 and 2050 in the base case, and 15 000 MW of new coal between 2028 and 2041. It also sees 17 600 MW of solar PV and 37 400 MW of wind coming online by 2050.
The draft will undergo a public participation process, which the DoE hopes will be concluded at the end of February 2017 with a plan submitted to cabinet for sign-off by March.
“It is now clear that there is no real controversy in electricity planning in South Africa,” Eberhard told Fin24. “All the models – those run by DoE/Eskom, CSIR, the National Planning Commission and the ERC – select solar plus wind plus gas as the cheapest option and nuclear energy doesn’t appear.
“If you see nuclear energy in any draft electricity plans in South Africa, it has been forced into the electricity planning model,” he said.
“If this happens, it should be made explicit, and the cost difference between the least cost electricity supply mix and any ‘policy adjustments’ should be published so that sound investment decisions are made,” he said. “It’s a pity that the draft published by the DoE does not do this.”
Eberhard said it is positive that the electricity plan is finally being updated and opened to public consultation, although he said this should have been done years ago.
“Everyone agrees that the official IRP developed in 2010 is out of date: its electricity demand projections were too optimistic and we now have more up-to-date data on the comparative costs of electricity supply options.
“It is thus no surprise that the new draft plan suggests that nuclear energy investments should be delayed and are required, perhaps, only in 2037, and that more solar and wind energy power plants should be built: the costs of these supply options have fallen substantially over the past few years.
“However, there are some concerns around the new draft electricity plan,” he said. “It is clear that the published ‘base case’ has constrained the amount of solar and wind energy that can be built in any one year and it is for this reason that nuclear appears in later years.
“It is also clear that the cost assumptions for solar and wind energy are conservative and are substantially higher than those achieved in the latest renewable energy IPP bid rounds.
“If these constraints are removed, the planning model picks solar plus wind plus gas as the cheapest electricity supply mix, which also meets required security of supply standards.”
Eberhard is a member the Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy, which advises the DoE on energy policy and has given input into the IRP process. Another member is Dr Tobias Bischof-Niemz, who heads up energy at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
Bischof-Niemz showed Fin24 why the IRP would not include any new nuclear or any new coal if the annual new-build limits on renewables were lifted.
Through a set of calculations of cost figures in the public domain, he concluded that “these calculations show that the cost for solar PV in the IRP is roughly 80% too high, and for wind they are 55% too high”.
Outa considering judicial challenge of IRP method
Meanwhile, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) is considering a judicial challenge to the IRP's base case methodology, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
“In our opinion, the entire process reeks of reverse engineering to try and accommodate the introduction of nuclear energy”, said Ted Blom, Outa’s portfolio director for energy. “A series of methodological decisions have been introduced, to keep a window open to justify a false need for nuclear power.
“The first dubious decision in the chain was not to select a zero-base model,” he said. “The rational approach would dictate that every IRP update is to run a lowest cost model, as was advised by the Ministerial Advisory Commission on Energy.
“Had this been done, the base case IRP model would have shown zero nuclear and the entire nuclear debate would have been over.
“Outa is assessing a possible judicial challenge of the IRP and IEP base case methodology, assumptions and rationality, to halt the department’s flawed process which could have extremely expensive and adverse decisions for South Africa,” said Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage.
Safcei concerned about public process
The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environmental Institute (Safcei) said in a statement on Wednesday that the most urgent matter is government’s proposed timeframe and plans for public input on the draft IRP.
“The DoE proposes to hold consultative workshops with South Africans in major cities over a short seven days (December 7 to 15), in which time they would be expected to review and consider the plan and all related information,” said Safcei spokesperson Liz McDaid.
“This move clearly demonstrates government’s attempt to deliberately limit public input. It hardly seems fair that the DoE expects the public to fully review all the facts and formulate informed responses in a rush at the end of the year, especially since it took government about five years to come up with the plan in the first place.
“This is why comprehensive and meaningful public participation must be sought. Citizens need to know and fully understand what they are signing themselves (and their legacies) up for. It is equally important that citizens are educated on renewable energy resources that would work much better for SA than nuclear," she said.Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter: Fin24’s top stories