Push for nuclear over renewables in South Africa: report

 ·23 Jul 2023

Detractors of the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) draft report say that the push for renewable energy will put jobs at risk while also not meeting the country’s energy needs.

The PCC advises that renewable energy be maximised in South Africa, with the commission saying that the least expensive, widely known and quickest renewable energy sources should be added to the grid, which alludes to renewable sources backed by storage and peaking support.

As reported by City Press, the critics – who are linked to the Freedom Foundation (Izwe Lami) and Truth in Energy – said that jobs in mining would be affected by the push to renewables.

“Much of the negative impact will strike in selected areas such as coal and uranium mining regions. There would be significant knock-on effects for many, resulting in jobless people moving to other areas seeking work. This would generate a socioeconomic nightmare,” the critics said.

The critics also alleged that there are inaccuracies in the representation of the environmental impact of renewables, with wind farms taking 300 to 4,000 times more land to generate the same amount as nuclear power plants.

“Wind farms are typically on hills or ridges. They extract energy from the prevailing wind. The full long-term implications are speculative. There will be changing weather and climate conditions and patterns. Much has been said legitimately about impacts on birds and bats, including endangered high-flying species, but no attention has been given to impacts on wind-dependent nature, such as rainfall, crops, pollens, insects, moths, butterflies, seeds and the like,” they said.

The critics added that nuclear power is a far better source of clean energy that meets South Africa’s energy needs.

“[The report] is premised on ignoring nuclear power, which is by all objective criteria by far the cleanest, safest, greenest and most cost-effective option. The proverbial ‘cherry on top’ or ‘bonanza’ is that South Africa can supply its own needs easily and export uranium to many other countries,” they said.

The critics also noted that South Africa will still need to use non-renewables to keep the lights on in South Africa.

“Even then, backup dispatchable power such as gas or coal would be needed. There is an unfortunate and dishonest tendency to omit the fact that intermittent power sources must be accompanied by backup capacity. That is the true cost of ‘renewable’ power,” they noted.


Despite the critics’ opinions, there are signs that keeping renewable energy in the mix brings many positives to the country.

Firstly, as South Africa battles its energy crisis, wind energy, which has seen a substantial increase in output due to winter storms, has been one of the most effective ways to mitigate potentially higher stages of load shedding.

This is while the year-to-date Energy Availablity Factor at Eskom’s coal-fired power stations has decreased substantially from the 59.35% in 2022 to 53.77% in 2022.

Although the authors also believe that nuclear energy is a better fit for South Africa’s energy mix, Eskom’s only nuclear power station, Koeberg, is facing major difficulties.

In December 2022, Koeberg Unit 1 was taken offline for maintenance and other life-extension work. However, despite the maintenance being scheduled to be completed in July, it is still offline due to severe delays hitting the project.

As reported by News24, electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said that he was concerned that Unit 1 and Unit 2 of Koeberg will be offline at the same time.

Ramokgopa added that this could lead to higher stages of load shedding in 2024, as the two units produce close to 2,000 MW – equating to two stages of load shedding.

The plant’s operating license will also expire in July 2024 if it is not successfully refurbished.

The shift to renewables will also bring substantial investment into South Africa. Germany, France, the US, the UK and the European Union will give South Africa $8.5 billion (R150 billion) under the Just Energy Transition Partnership.

“South Africa’s commitment to tackling climate change is long-standing and unwavering. It is borne out of the understanding that although developing economies have made little contribution to global warming, we must all contribute our fair share to addressing it,” President Ramaphosa previously said.

“A just energy transition can attract investment, create new industries and jobs, and help us to achieve energy security and climate resilience.”

Finally, there are several renewable energy projects in the pipeline that will be crucial for South Africa to address load shedding.

In May, the environment minister Barbara Creecy said that the government is processing applications to produce close to 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy.

The request are made up of up of close to 7,000 MW of wind energy and nearly 3,000 MW of solar, with many of the projects having battery storage systems and transmission and distribution infrastructure, she said.

“We are working hard to cut the red tape and get these projects finalised. We have reduced our decision-making time frames from 107 days to 57 days, Creecy said.

Read: Eskom issues alert over inverters and other power backups

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