Do either the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) or the Eskom turnaround plan, revealed by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, reduce the risk to the country’s power supply?

According to Paul Nel from Aurecon both documents may be overly ambitious while providing little indication of how they will practically achieve their lofty goals.

Nel, a power industry veteran who, during his 18 years at Eskom, was responsible for all capital and large maintenance projects including all refurbishment and rehabilitation projects of nine power stations, understands the difficulties involved.

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“However, the right things are now being said and the right decisions are being made, and that is a good sign for the country,” he says.

IRP 2019

Many expectations hinged on the arrival of this gateway document, as government had put any plans to expand its renewable energy strategy on hold until its release.

Nel says that the Western Cape needs strong base load generation and that the policy to extend the life of Koeberg Nuclear Power Station by 20 years is the obvious option.

One step at a time: IRP 2019

Apart from this project, there’s little mention of new nuclear developments with the exception of passing comment to an additional 2,500 MW at some point in the future.

In fact, the IRP is laden with mentions of renewable energy and, for the first time, lays out a time frame for decommissioning old fossil-fired power stations.

“These points should comfort critics who accused government of pushing its own agenda in terms of nuclear generation and expensive new builds,” says Nel.

“It shows they are responding to realistic concerns about affordability– that’s a very positive indicator.”

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Of concern to Nel is the unclear narrative around the “just transition” of a coal-based workforce to a renewable-based system:

“Thermal generation is much more labour intensive than a renewables economy, and the IRP is not clear about how this transition will be accomplished.  In the interest of hitting the IRP energy targets, government should have  given clearer indications on when Round 5 of the Renewable Energy IPP program will be launched, instead the IRP suggests this may depend on some outcome of a ”just transition” process.”

Eskom turnaround plan

The eagerly anticipated turnaround plan for Eskom has arrived. Whether or not is represents a viable solution for the country’s troubled energy provider remains to be seen.

Again, Nel is concerned with the relatively high initial target of 70% availability for Eskom’s generation plant  indicated in this plan. To implement major corrective actions on specific units can take up to a year of planning and several months to implement.

“Even if all the right decisions are made and funding is available now, it would still take up to five years to reach a sustainable higher availability target,” he says. As with the IRP, the turnaround plan is somewhat vague on specific actions.

No quick fixes

Nel’s advice to the average South African is not to expect major improvements overnight or even within the next two years.

“With the IRP and turnaround issued, the first hurdles have been cleared, but a complete transformation of the country’s current energy woes is going to take a long time,” he concludes.