Wind turbines between  Jeffreys Bay and Humansdorp. Picture: WEEKEND POST
Wind turbines between Jeffreys Bay and Humansdorp. Picture: WEEKEND POST

Speakers at the department of energy’s public hearings in Johannesburg on its recently released draft energy plans have taken issue with the exclusion of certain technologies from the plan. In particular they point to the exclusion of solar power (CSP) and co-generation and suspiciously short timelines for consultation. There were also some pungent criticisms of Eskom after the utility’s refusal to sign new power-purchase agreements for renewable energy, as it says the power is not available when it is needed.

The draft updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), sketching a proposed energy mix to 2050, was published on November 22 with an updated Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) focusing on electricity, gas and liquid fuels. The updated plans have taken into account carbon-emissions constraints and job creation potential.

The public hearings being held around the country are intended to invite criticisms and further suggestions, leading to a scenario analysis and a final plan. The first session was attended by about 200 people.

Jarredine Morris, presenting for the Energy Intensive User Group, representing SA’s biggest electricity consumers, said the short timelines did not constitute proper consultation. The group asked for an extension to March 31.

Department of energy deputy director-general Ompi Aphane said there was nothing sinister about starting public consultations just before the holiday break as there are no legal deadlines to be met. He said he would ask his principals to extend the timelines and allow for another round of public consultations before the final plan is adopted.

Speakers from CSP providers Abengoa, SolarReserve and BrightSource criticised the IRP for excluding CSP from the base case scenario. They said the input costs of R2.30/kWh used in the study are higher than the actual prices awarded in the latest expedited bid round. They also said the study ignores the rapid learning rate for CSP, which brings down costs. They argued that CSP, which stores solar energy for release during peak demand periods, provides essential flexibility to the grid.

A similar complaint about the exclusion of co-generation, or byproduct energy from industrial processes, was raised by the Paper Manufacturers Association of SA. The association said the draft IRP does not mention co-generation though it is highly efficient, saves fuel, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and transmission losses.

Others questioned the exclusion of rapidly developing technologies, in particular energy storage (other than lithium-ion batteries) and electric vehicles. This, they said, will have repercussions for electricity and liquid fuel demand.

The IRP base case was criticised for placing artificial limits on the amount of renewable energy that can be added to the grid each year.

This appears to be largely based on Eskom’s inability to upgrade infrastructure to allow new projects to be connected.

Tobias Bischof-Niemz, who heads the energy centre at the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), said there was no technical justification for this constraint. He also objected to the prices used in the levellised cost of energy comparisons. They are reflected as similar for solar photovoltaic (PV), wind and coal, whereas wind and solar PV are about 40% cheaper than coal.

Removing these limitations, the CSIR remodelled the optimal energy mix. This showed SA should generate 12% of its electricity from coal and nuclear energy by 2050, rather than the 40% mentioned in the IRP. With more renewable energy the annual costs of generation will fall to R490bn from R580bn in the IRP, Bischof-Niemz said.

Aphane said the department is open to changing the constraints. The latest prices from the expedited bid round for renewable projects had not been used because they had not yet been made public.

"I am half sold on changing our starting point. We don’t want to give the impression that this process has been captured," he said.

Initial reports suggested the draft IRP had been "captured" by the nuclear lobby.

Mike Levington, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy (Mace), said concerns raised by the Mace working group formed to consider the IRP had been ignored. It had recommended removing all constraints on adding renewable energy, which would make the IRP base case 7,500MW of new coal and no new nuclear energy in 2050, rather than 15,000MW of new coal and 20,000MW of new nuclear.

Ntombifuthi Ntuli, presenting for the SA Renewable Energy Council, said the nuclear cost assumptions in the IRP were "dangerously unrealistic", adding that Eskom should not be both player and decision-maker.

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