Load shedding is not going anywhere: experts

 ·8 Jan 2024

Despite brief blocks of load shedding suspension in the past month or so, energy experts say that scheduled outages are likely to stick around for the foreseeable future.

This isn’t just speculation but rather something that is admitted and worked into South Africa’s energy future with the 2023 Integrated Resource Plan, which shows that the country will struggle to serve the necessary energy for at least the next four years.

According to energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard, the latest IRP from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is an admission of failure by the government and its lofty ambitions of eliminating load shedding.

The draft energy blueprint envisions more than 100,000MW of new generation capacity being built by 2050, and proposes that a variety of technologies and fuels be considered to produce it, including solar, wind, nuclear and coal.

It maps out multiple scenarios, such as a “least cost” plan to produce 105,000MW of power, and another that sees 166,00MW being generated from wind, solar, gas and battery storage.

The blueprint envisions these additional megawatts being added to the grid by 2030:

  • 4,468 megawatts of power being added to the grid from wind projects,
  • 3,715 megawatts from solar plants,
  • 7,220 megawatts from gas plants

Another 4,103 megawatts should be available from battery storage, while companies are expected to produce about 6,000 megawatts for their own use, it said.

The plan also leans heavily toward delaying the shutting down of coal power stations in South Africa, with the department arguing that, by delaying the process, energy can be secured for much longer.

However, the plan also admits that there will be “unserved energy” for the next four years – and experts like Eberhard and Chris Yelland have also criticised it for not having any credibility.

“SA’s IRP 2023 is a stitch-up, with pre-determined outcomes in line with what the energy minister has been advocating – wishful thinking around improvements in Eskom power station performance, delays in coal decommissioning, ‘clean’ coal, nuclear energy, and lots of gas,” Eberhard said.

“Yet, (energy minister Gwede) Mantashe has failed to make progress in any of these areas in the four and a half years he’s been energy minister. The only thing he has actually achieved is a slow-down in renewable energy investments.”

Eberhard said the draft IRP also carries other “disastrous” consequences, like no acceleration in publicly procured renewable energy or enabling regulatory reforms. In addition, the funding component is also deemed a pipe dream.

“South Africa will get nowhere close to the R1.2 trillion investment it needs in 60GW of new capacity and grid expansion,” he said.

Yelland described the draft IRP as a “shoddy piece of work, lacking in maturity and depth”, with no economic or scenario modelling made available for scrutiny.

“There is no indication in the document on what technology costs were used when modelling the economics of the different technologies used. None of that is presented,” he told the SABC.

“There are no cost implications given for the different assumptions or scenarios that you may want to look at. It is frankly impossible for anybody on the basis of what has been presented to replicate or to try and model the output of this IRP by independent modellers.”

According to Eskom’s latest system status report (for the final week of 2023), the outlook remains squarely ‘code red’, with the next 52 weeks showing high risk levels for energy shortfalls.

Read: South Africa’s big new plan to end load shedding for good

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