Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The most cost-effective option for SA’s energy future does not include the commissioning of new nuclear power plants, a ministerial advisory committee on energy says.

The advisory committee was commissioned by Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to analyse and provide feedback on the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

The IRP is the key energy planning document and sets out projections on demand and the cost of various technologies to arrive at an optimal energy mix over a 20-year period.

The keenly awaited IRP and the Integrated Energy Plan had been submitted to the Cabinet and would be released for public comment shortly, the minister said on Wednesday when answering questions in the National Council of Provinces.

She said the Cabinet had decided Eskom would be the owner and operator of the nuclear build programme.

Joemat-Pettersson said Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe would announce on Thursday that the reports would be released for public comment and input before a final report was done. Among the critical decisions that will flow from the IRP is whether SA should build nuclear energy capacity, how much and by when.

The team’s key finding is that the draft IRP under consideration imposes artificial limits on how much renewable energy capacity can be built in a year, with the result that the draft finds nuclear power is necessary and cost effective. But, says the team, the IRP is obliged to find the least-cost model, which the draft does not do.

"A least-cost IRP model, free of any artificial constraints and before any policy adjustments, does not include any new nuclear power generators."

It says the optimal least-cost mix is one of solar photovoltaic (PV), wind and flexible natural gas power generators.

"The working group therefore recommends that the annual new-build limits imposed on solar PV and wind are removed," says the report.

The constraints would result in higher costs for electricity for the consumer.

The working group includes Mike Levington, University of Cape Town professor Anton Eberhard, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Tobias Bischof-Niemz and North-West University professor Johannes van Dyk.

The group argues that the costs for renewable energy used in the draft IRP are inflated and do not reflect the actual tariffs achieved in the renewable energy independent power producers programme.

"This apparently is a result of technical mistakes …. It is recommended to adjust the currently assumed costs of both solar PV and wind downwards to correctly reflect South African actual tariffs."

Enthusiasm for nuclear power — particularly from President Jacob Zuma, who wants to see SA build 9.6GW of nuclear power capacity — has turned the IRP into a political football.

According to best practice the IRP should be updated every two years as the assumptions change constantly. But the IRP has not been updated since 2010 as policy makers have wrangled over the relative importance accorded to nuclear power.

Eskom has said it wants the first new nuclear power station up and running by 2026.

Head of generation Matshela Koko said the procurement process should begin prior to the finalisation of the new IRP.

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