Solar industry welcomes IRP, but urges DMR to get details right

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association welcomed the Integrated Resource Plan gazetted on Friday, but pointed out that the energy policy document's details needed to be sharpened to allow for cheap renewable energy to work in the country.

Mantashe released the energy masterplan on Friday after a week of hinting that it would be released. Cabinet approved the IRP during a meeting on Wednesday. The IRP made an allocation of 6 000MW of new generation capacity to large scale solar photovoltaics.

Upon the release of the IRP, Mantashe told reporters that coal energy was still a significant part of the country’s energy mix, as envisioned by the policy document. SAPVIA represent businesses and investors in the photovoltaic solar energy sector.

SAPVIA chair, Wido Schnabel, urged the department to find ways of smoothing the gaps between the benchmark periods leading up to 2030, as continuity was needed for investment in industrialisation.

"We will continue to engage the minister of Mineral Resources and Energy to find mechanisms to smooth out the gaps presented in 2024, 2026 and 2027, where no solar PV is envisaged to be added to the grid," said Schnabel.

SAPVIA COO Niveshen Govender said the association welcomed the statement from Cabinet, highlighting that the IRP is "a living document", which will allow for larger future allocation to cheaper and more practical renewable energy projects.

"The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy should already start planning the techno-economic studies and analysis required for the next iteration of the IRP to ensure that policy reflects the latest most accurate assumptions on all technologies," said Govender.    

Meanwhile CEO of the Sola Group, Dom Wills, said the latest version of the IRP was critical as Eskom's fleet is running at below 75% capacity, load shedding is ever present, and over the next 10 years - 10GW of coal will be decommissioned. 

"The new IRP 2019 seems to favour renewables, as over 90% new procurement in the next 10 years will be of wind, solar and gas.  However, there is a revival of the nuclear strategy which is a concern, because of the associated high costs and risks," said Wills.

Wills said the IRP does well to recognise embedded energy opportunities in meeting the medium-term energy shortfall and removing red tape which in extensive permitting requirements.

"The next step should be to simply raise the embedded generation cap from 1MW to 10MW, where projects under 10MW don't need a generation license.  This will allow the private market to assist government in covering the immediate energy shortfall," Wills said.

With demand forecasts and assumptions taken into account, the plan assumes 1000MW for photovoltaic energy and 1600MW for wind per annum.

The plan also says all technologies included in the promulgated IRP 2010–2030 where prices have not come down like photovoltaic and wind will not be deployed because the least-cost option only contains photovoltaic, wind and gas energy.

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