The South African Department of Energy this week announced that the Cabinet has approved the draft updated Integrated Resources Plan (IRP 2018) which will see increased renewable energy generation in place of planned nuclear expansion.
For a long time, former president Jacob Zuma wanted to expand South Africa’s nuclear power sector by adding new nuclear capacity in excess of 9 GW and including eight new nuclear power plants. However, after his ignominious resignation in February earlier this year following a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, the push for nuclear power has been replaced by a desire to increase the country’s renewable energy capacity.
Specifically, the country’s Energy Minister Jeff Radebe announced this week in a press briefing to journalists that the Cabinet had approved the updated IRP 2018 which would increase renewable energy capacity and add only a minimal amount of new coal.
According to Radebe, the country needs to “invest in a strong network of economic infrastructure designed to support the country’s medium- and long-term economic and social objectives.” This does not include nuclear power, and according to the revised draft, there will be no new nuclear capacity until at least 2030, and then the Government will conduct a “study to determine if more nuclear is needed.”
“The electricity generation and distribution landscape in South Africa is changing at a rapid pace compared to the period before 2010,” said Minister Radebe in explaining his country’s current energy plans. “In keeping to our climate change commitments, the country has also introduced renewable energy through independent power producers.”
Specifically, the new draft of the IRP not only includes no new nuclear power and only 1 gigawatt (GW) worth of new coal capacity by 2030, but it plans for additional renewable capacity of over 15 GW — including 2.5 GW of hydro, 5.670 GW of solar PV, and 8.1 GW worth of new wind capacity. The new plan also calls for 8.1 GW of new natural gas capacity.
In addition to expanding its nuclear capacity, the IRP 2018 also seeks to better handle the pace of change and what is needed. Specifically, the IRP has determined “That the pace and scale of new capacity developments needed up to year 2030 must be curtailed compared to what was projected,” but that ““Imposing annual build limits on renewables does not impact the total installed capacity of renewable energy technology for the period up to 2030.”
What is important, according to Radebe, is that “There is significant change in the energy mix post-2030 which is mainly driven by decommissioning of old coal power plant that reach their end of life.” Specifically, the report explains that “The full impact of decommissioning the existing Eskom fleet was not fully studied in the IRP Update” and that “It is evident that close to 75% (just under 30 GW) of the current Eskom coal fleet would have reached end-of-life by 2040.”
By 2030, therefore, South Africa’s energy mix is expected to include 65% worth of coal, 16% worth of natural gas, 15% worth of wind energy, 10% worth of solar PV, and 6% worth of hydro. And while 65% coal contribution is extremely high, it is still less than its current levels.