Is There A Viable Alternative To Eskom? (Part Two)
In part two of this love letter to Eskom, we take a look at the prospect of nuclear power in South Africa and renewable energy in Cape Town.
Published: Tuesday, August 15th 2017
Is there a viable alternative to Eskom? In Part One of this article, we took a brief look at the history of Eskom and load shedding.
In Part Two, we explore some options.
Minister of Energy, Mmamoloko Kubayi, recently assured the Russians attending the Atom Expo Nuclear Conference in Moscow that South Africa is still very much on the road to nuclear energy. Following that, Deputy Minister of Energy, Thembisile Majola, leading an inter-governmental task team, informed Parliament of further delays in the signing of power purchase agreements with various independent power producers.
They claim to be in talks with the National Treasury, Department of Public Energy and Department of Energy to discuss these power purchase agreements. However, the renewable energy industry has accused Eskom of refusing to sign the agreements with 37 IPPs. This has put investments of approximately R58 billion at risk. Eskom has maintained it will sign them at a pace and scale it can afford, there’s no debate about it; they just need clarity on certain aspects.
The reasons for Eskom’s postponement in signing these R58 billion agreements were as such:
1. Oversupply Hardship
Our alleged energy surplus is largely due to a decline in national demand as a result of South Africa’s nose-diving economy. Also, additional power is now being generated by the four newly commissioned units at Medupi and Kusile. This energy surplus could balloon over the next five years as the other eight units are commissioned and brought online This simply piles on to the already oversupplied national grid. Energy export prospects into other African nations are restricted by limited transmission infrastructure and the disinclination or inability of these nations to pay for imported power.
2. Economic Hardship
Eskom claims that ‘strained finances’ are stalling the R59 billion renewable energy programme, yet the Department of Energy are entertaining a R1 trillion nuclear option. What Russia’s motives are in this deal are, at best, murky. Their own nuclear projects haven’t fared much better, with most of them in delay and incurring frightening cost overruns.
Our willingness to splash the cash on nuclear prospects, as opposed to renewable energy may have something to do with the overwhelmingly positive attributes of the former. Nuclear power provides efficient, profitable energy without any risk at all. Aside from meltdowns, radiation poisoning, mutations, earthquakes, explosions and chaotic evacuations, it seems like a good idea. Especially in the corrupt, inept hands of the people who can barely keep the comparatively ‘straightforward’ coal-fired power stations going.
Medupi and Kusile have also suffered enormous construction delays and cost overruns. Silos are collapsing, people. South Africa may simply be too immature to deliver, control and maintain safe nuclear power.
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The Resurgence Of Renewable Energy
Wind and solar photo-voltaic (PV) Independent Power Providers seem to be the most realistic way forward for South Africa. These projects seem to be the only ones starting up on time and within budget, are wide-spread and are far easier to manage.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has calculated that wind and solar plants, supported by open-cycle turbines, could power up to 70% of our grid by 2040. This would save R87 billion a year when compared to a mix of coal and nuclear.
It could be argued that the last time wind power seemed a viable option for the future was during Hammurabi’s 17th Century reign of Babylon. And yet, the City of Cape Town has bought power from the Darling wind farm for some time.
There are many reasons why municipalities should be looking at alternative energy options. As opposed to relying on electricity bill payments to line their pockets.
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro has enjoyed great success with this. Joburg City Power is also reported to be looking at alternative power options. Clearwater Mall in Roodepoort now has one of the largest rooftop solar installations in Africa. George Airport is now the second in the world to use solar energy, following Cochin International Airport in India.
The first phase of the George solar project is part of a R16 million plant that converts solar energy into direct current electricity using solar panels. The operation produces 680 kilowatts a day and powers 41% of the airport.
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Cape Town’s Defiance
Last week, Energy Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi confirmed that the Department of Energy and Nersa have been served with court papers by the City of Cape Town. Patricia De Lille is demanding the right of the City to purchase electricity from independent power producers.
De Lille has previously stated that local governments cannot be held responsible for decisions made on a national level.
This prompted the City to explore new energy options for local government which could, benefit the whole country.
“It is for this reason that we have set up a strategy work-group with the Western Cape Government to explore energy security and the right energy mix for the region for the future. We have to assess all of the options out there – from renewables to gas – and find the right sustainable combination for our current and future needs.”
We chatted to Carel Ballack of PQRS (Power Quality Renewable Services) who explained it in perfect layman’s terms.
“Imagine you have three vehicles,” he says. “Let’s say a taxi, a bakkie and a family car. You wouldn’t use one of these to do a job it wasn’t meant to do. You would use the taxi to transport people and the bakkie to transport materials. The family car will be used to go on vacation. It’s the same thing with energy. You have to have an energy blend for it to work.”
De Lille explained that the new energy exploration mission will be running in parallel to the programmes the City has already enacted. It would act an electricity saving campaign to reduce demand, altering consumer behaviour and replacing electric geysers with solar water heaters.
Introducing Other Suppliers
This court action from Cape Town challenges the ‘single-buyer’ model we run on. In this, Eskom is given the exclusive right to procure electricity from generators of electricity for resale. This includes electricity from renewable energy IPP’s. If the court prevents the city from procuring electricity directly from IPPs, the City would challenge the constitutionality of such legislation.
The matter is relevant to clarify whether municipalities can obtain electricity from small and medium sized electricity generators. This could be domestic, commercial and industrial roof-top solar PV systems. These are then embedded within municipal electricity distribution systems, and is particularly relevant for the City of Cape Town.
'Cape Town Energy' To Be Continued >>