Renewable energy’s dreadful costs and awful electricity
Unreliable capacity and excessively high costs make renewable energy nothing more than a ‘green’ idealogue’s dream
SA is stumbling towards energy disaster. On top of Eskom’s failures comes the calamitous Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018, a plan for ruinously expensive electricity. (The IRP 2018, drawn up by the department of energy, plans SA’s electricity supply.) The IRP is mad, based not on the real world but on a fantasy world of computer models.
The IRP’s “least-cost option” is in fact the most expensive option possible, which has seen electricity costs soaring wherever it has been tried. This is a combination of wind, solar and imported gas. It was drawn up by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and supported by the IRP. It is a recipe for calamity.
It seems strange that SA should forsake its own huge resources of reliable energy and depend on foreign sources. Worse is its reliance on unreliable solar and wind.
South Australia actually did implement something like the CSIR’s “least-cost option”. It closed coal stations, built wind turbines and some solar plants, and supplemented them with natural gas, which Australia, unlike SA, has in abundance. The result was soaring electricity prices, reaching, at one point in July 2016, the astonishing figure of A$14,000/MWh (R140/kWh). Eskom’s average selling price is R0.89/kWh. The “least-cost solution” resulted momentarily in an electricity price more than 150 times Eskom’s. It would be worse here because we don’t have much gas.
The renewable energy companies and the greens seem to have captured the department of energy (quite legally, quite differently from Gupta capture)
It also caused two total blackouts for South Australia. In panic it ordered the world’s biggest battery from Elon Musk. Jaws dropped when people discovered how expensive it was and how inadequate (with 0.5% of the storage capacity of our Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme).
The IRP and CSIR refuse to recognise the essential cost that makes renewables so expensive. Here is the key equation: cost of renewable electricity equals price paid by the system operator plus system costs.
The system costs are the costs the grid operator, Eskom in our case, has to bear to accommodate the appalling fluctuations of wind and solar power so as to meet demand at all times. The renewable companies refuse to reveal their production figures but I have graphs of total renewable production since 2013, the beginning of renewable energy independent power producers (IPPS) procurement programme. The graphs are terrible, with violent, unpredictable ups and downs.
In March 2018, power output varied from 3,000MW to 47MW. To stop this dreadful electricity shutting down the whole grid, Eskom must have back-up generators ramping up and down to match the renewables; it must have machines on “spinning reserve” (running below optimum power), and extra transmission lines. These cause system costs, which can be very expensive. The renewable companies don’t pay for them; Eskom does, and passes them on the South African public.
The system costs, ignored by the IRP and CSIR, are one of the reasons their models are nonsense. They explain an apparent paradox. Week by week we hear that the prices of solar and wind electricity are coming down; but week by week we see electricity consumers around the world paying more as solar and wind are added to the grid. Denmark, with the world’s highest fraction of wind electricity, has just about the most expensive electricity in Europe. Germany, since it adopted the absurd Energiewende (phasing out nuclear and replacing it with wind and solar) has seen electricity costs soaring.
The answer lies in the green desire for conquest. Nuclear power, as you can see driving past Koeberg, works in harmony with nature. The greens don’t like that. They want to conquer and dominate nature
The renewable energy IPP procurement programme, hailed by renewable companies as a huge success, has forced on SA its most expensive electricity ever — and its worst. Eskom’s last annual report, for the year ending 31 March 2018, revealed it was forced to pay 222c/kWh for the programme’s electricity compared with its selling price of 89c/kWh. But the system costs make it even more expensive.
We get an idea how much more from the one renewable technology that does provide honest electricity and covers its own system costs. This is concentrated solar power (CSP) with storage, where sunshine heats up a working fluid, which is stored in tanks and used for making electricity for short periods when required. The latest such plants charge about 500c/kWh at peak times. So the best solar technology, with an award-winning project, in perhaps the world’s best solar sites, produces electricity at more than 10 times the cost of Koeberg and about five times the cost of new nuclear.
Carbon dioxide reality
After the procurement programme proved a failure, Lynne Brown, then public enterprises minister, ordered Eskom to sign up for a further 27 renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs), each lasting 20 years. Malusi Gigaba, then finance minister, endorsed her.
Nuclear reduces carbon dioxide emissions; renewables don’t. The Energiewende has turned Germany into the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in Europe, because wind and solar, being so unreliable, had to be supplemented with fossil fuels, especially coal.
Two reasons drive renewables: money and ideology. Renewable energy companies make a fortune when they persuade governments to force their utilities to buy their awful electricity.
But why do the green ideologues love wind and solar? Not because of free energy, which is actually very expensive. Tides, waves, solar, wind and dissolved uranium in the sea can all provide free energy but, except for the uranium, it is always very costly to convert it into usable power. (Uranium from the sea would be naturally be replenished but it is cheaper to buy it from a commercial mine.)
I think the answer lies in the green desire for conquest. Nuclear power, as you can see driving past Koeberg, works in harmony with nature. The greens don’t like that. They want to conquer and dominate nature. They love the idea of thousands of gigantic wind turbines and immense solar arrays dominating the landscape like new totems of command. Wind and solar rely entirely on coercion by the state, which the greens also love (in a free market nobody would buy wind or solar grid electricity).
The renewable energy companies and the greens seem to have captured the department of energy (quite legally, quite differently from Gupta capture). If they get their way, the rest of us are going to suffer.
Since 1994, Eskom has been wrecked by bad management, destructive ideology and corruption. Because it didn’t build stations timeously, the existing stations have been run into the ground and are failing. Its once excellent coal supply has been crippled. There is massive over-staffing and Eskom is plunging into debt. Seasonable rains threaten another fiasco to match January 2008, which shut down our gold mines.
The last thing Eskom needs now is to be burdened by useless, very expensive renewable electricity. Recently, the parliamentary portfolio committee on energy, after listening to submissions on IRP 2018, recommended that coal and nuclear should remain in our energy mix. Perhaps a ray of hope for sanity.
• Kenny is a professional engineer with degrees in physics, mathematics and mechanical engineering.