South Africa ‘needs to broaden energy supply to include renewables’

19 Mar | BDay Live | Sue Blaine

THE “power crunch” South Africa was experiencing was evidence the country needed to both increase its energy supply, and broaden it to include more flexible energy sources such as renewables, the Word Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Unit chief Saliem Fakir said on Monday.

South Africa, which has suffered a thin energy reserve for several years, is facing blackouts after software critical to Eskom’s Medupi power plant’s operating system failed three tests, especially as there is no clarity on whether the problem can be fixed.

“It is clear Medupi will not come online until 2014, or even later…. Our reserve is very thin and if we need to grow our economy, as we do, even if consumption stabilises, if a big power station goes down we’re in trouble,” said Mr Fakir in an interview with Business Day.

The software, being developed by French contractor Alstom, failed three tests over the 18 months to December 24. This caused Eskom to draw Alstom’s 10% performance bond, a contractual remedy employed in serious circumstances. Also extraordinarily, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba has intervened, calling Alstom CEO Patrick Kron to South Africa to express his dissatisfaction and concern.

Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe said the system was “most certainly” tight. Eskom’s biweekly system status update for last night put available capacity at 31,708MW, and anticipated peak demand at 31,228MW. The figures for the rest of the week were similar.

South Africa is in desperate need of more energy after a decade in which state-owned power utility Eskom’s pleas for investment in generation capacity were ignored. Power outages in 2008 cost the South African economy an estimated R50bn. Eskom has begun a R300bn build programme, with about 20,000MW of additional capacity due to be online by 2025.

South Africa’s energy constraints were hobbling the economy, with high tariff hikes, and expensive stop-gap measures such as using diesel to run gas turbines to ensure security of supply, Mr Fakir said.

South Africa needed to roll out renewable energy plants more quickly because doing so took less time than building nuclear- and coal-based power, even without the environmental benefits, he said.

It took three- to five years to get a renewable power plant producing power, seven- to 10 years for a coal-based plant and more than 10 for nuclear power stations.

The first lot of renewable-source energy stations is being built, with those approved in the bid process’s second round to turn sod later in the year. Bids for a third round have to be placed with the Department of Energy by August.

The first round is expected to supply the country with 3,725MW of power by 2016. The second is to increase total capacity by 1,044MW.

The Department of Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan, through which it has planned the transformation of SA’s “energy mix” to 2030, forecasts that by then, 14% of the country’s energy will come from coal, 22.6% from nuclear, 9.2% from open-cycle gas turbine 5.6% from closed-cycle gas turbine, 6.1% from renewable energy carriers including hydro, 19.7% from wind, 2.4% from concentrated solar power and 19.7% from photovoltaic solar power.


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