Article taken from Issue 17-Green Times:
SA's 20 year plan for electricity generation
The draft twenty-year plan for electricity generation, also called the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010, was released a few weeks ago for public comment. The IRP process is all but a fait accompli. But what goes into the plan will determine the future of South Africa's energy mix for the next two decades.
why is an IRP important?
Well, energy or electricity is like blood running through the veins of an economy. Without it, our fledgling modern state would collapse. Never mind the myriad other things that are stalled without electricity, but crucially, without it, we would be unable to expand the economy and attract new investments, which in turn could limit the scope of job expansion.
How does the IRP process work?
The plan lays the basis for Eskom to submit an application to the National Electricity Regulator (NERSA) to permit it to go ahead with the financing of new power projects or the purchase of power from private generators.
200 years of coal
The main reason, despite the claim that we have 200 years of coal (which is proving to be untrue given recent coal estimates), is that any new sources of coal have an inherent insecurity in them because of question marks about the quality of the coal and the unpredictability of the future price. This situation is worsened by the fact that we may not have the infrastructure in place in time to dig out enough coal from the ground to supply demanding and hungry coal-fired power stations.
coal-fired power on the way out
The diminishing prominence of coal-fired power also has other reasons attached to it. Any new financing, at least from the Western World that has carbon reduction as a goal, will not be easily forthcoming for coal plants. Soft finance will be more readily available for renewables and to some extent for nuclear.
But there are also weaknesses in the plan. The plan still adopts the "old school" way of thinking about electricity, which is etched through its fabric of scenarios and assumptions. In this way, it is very supply side orientated.
always look on the bright side
The plan seems to exude deep scepticism about our ability to shift behaviour and relies on engineering solutions rather than a values approach that can alter future demand patterns for the consumption of electricity.
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