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Coal and nuclear back on the energy grid

Gwede Mantashe stamps his mark on the energy portfolio.
With most coal-fired power stations reaching end of life between now and 2050, mines and energy minister Gwede Mantashe is looking to cleaner coal and nuclear energy options. Picture: Moneyweb

Nuclear power and clean coal are back on the energy grid. That’s one of the key takeaways from Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe’s budget presentation last week. Mantashe has taken over the energy portfolio from Jeff Radebe, and immediately signalled a shift in direction.

“As a country, we must avoid the currently polarised debate on energy, pitted as coal versus renewables. The debate should be about the effective use of all the energy sources at our disposal, to achieve security of supply,” he said.

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which details the country’s future energy needs, is being finalised at Nedlac and will then go before cabinet for approval in September. All forms of energy technologies will form part of the mix, including cleaner coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, renewables and battery storage.

The IRP released for comment last year envisaged no new nuclear power plants, and greater reliance on renewables to replace older coal-fired plants that would be decommissioned over the next decade.

Mantashe’s speech seems to have overturned this presumption.

Independent energy consultants have for years warned of the dangers of over-committing to expensive renewable energies, which was the direction being taken under Radebe. Those economies that went this route, notably Denmark and South Australia, have experienced complete grid shutdowns in recent years. Renewables make relatively little contribution to base load energy due to the reliance on variable solar and wind patterns, and are currently the most expensive energy being fed into the grid at more than 200c per kilowatt hour (kWh), compared with about 30c for Koeberg’s nuclear energy.

Mantashe pointed out that Koeberg will also reach the end of its designed life by 2024, but is undergoing a refit that will extend its life to around 2045. “Koeberg demonstrates the benefits of nuclear power, [and] gives reason to SA continuing with the nuclear expansion programme.”

Nuclear power has the added benefit of balancing the grid, and providing back-up and inertia to intermittent electricity sources. The ‘decay heat’ from the nuclear plant can also be used to provide desalinated water to Cape Town, which is still recovering from drought.

Planning for nuclear power plants must start now to ensure the country’s energy security and to conform with the National Development Plan’s mandate to provide a diversified energy mix.

No plan for the power that will be lost

Most coal-fired power stations will reach end of life between now and the year 2050, the majority coming to an end between 2030 and 2040. Several older coal-fired power stations will be retired over the next few years, meaning that 12.5 gigawatts of energy will have to be replaced. This is going to place huge pressure on the grid, and there is still no plan for this lost power to be replaced in time. It can take up to a decade to get a new power station connected to the grid.

Mantashe sees a future for cleaner coal, though his speech was short on details about how this will happen. One of the solutions to SA’s future energy needs is its participation the Grand Inga hydropower project with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is expected to produce 40 000 megawatts of power on the Congo River, commencing by 2024. In terms of a treaty signed with DRC, SA will purchase roughly half of this new power from Inga, though the project faces opposition from environmental groups because of high costs and environmental disruption.

“I welcome the new open-mind approach by minister Mantashe,” says independent energy consultant Ted Blom. “A balanced approach should always have been the way forward. I also agree that renewable energy makes for very poor baseload and support proper nuclear, not the kind of bloated nuclear approached adopted under former president Jacob Zuma, and especially the new Pebble Bed Modular Reactors that China and Russia have commercialised – and which can be decentralised to create jobs all over the country.

Nobody wants dirty power

“I also agree that we should utilise our abundant coal power through clean coal technologies. Nobody supports polluted power as Eskom is currently generating. Renewable energy for households to feed into the grid should also form part of the energy mix, although this has not been specified. Most important, I agree urgent intervention is needed to bring back the price of electricity to below 50c/kwh and create competition for Eskom.”

Mantashe notes that rising electricity prices have impacted the cost of doing business in SA. To mitigate against this, the department is exploring greater use of natural gas. Most natural gas in SA is imported from Mozambique. “We therefore need to explore more economical options to bring natural gas into the South African market, including accelerating our own natural gas exploration activities such as the Karoo shale gas and the deep-sea discoveries,” he said.

“The department will, in the current period, implement importation of liquefied natural gas [LNG] with Coega Industrial Development Zone as the hub. Mozambique will be engaged to explore possibilities of increasing and extending the supply of gas beyond 2023, as we consider our own gas fields.”

Several pieces of legislation or amendments are in the works:

  • The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Bill, which will provide policy certainty for the upstream petroleum sector;
  • The Gas Amendment Bill, which aims to leverage the country’s gas resources such as those in the Karoo and the recent discoveries in the Brulpadda field, and assist in implementing gas-to-power projects;
  • The National Energy Regulator Amendment Bill, which will allow for more efficient regulation of the energy sector; and
  • Proposals will be placed before cabinet on how to structure the electricity sector and address challenges experienced by municipalities, Eskom and other stakeholders, resulting in the formulation of the Electricity Regulations Act.
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The debate should be about privatization. Nothing else.

The whole energy sector has to be deregulated, liberalised AND greened up.
Renewables are cheaper than coal nowadays.
Malome Gwede and this author are still desperately stuck in a long gone by mining era. Mantashe rose first to the fore as coal mining trade union leader in the early eighties around Witbank.
In the latest rounds of REIPP contracts in SA PV solar and wind came in at 70-96 cts per kWh. Much larger PV solar projects in the Middle East produce power at 45 to 70cts.
The two latest small CSP+TS plants of 50 and 100mW that came online in SA which can produce electricity 4 to9 hrs after the sun hit their mirrors are contracted for R 1.69/kWh.
Much larger CSP+TS projects have been built in Australia, Arizona, Spain and Chile that produce power up to 48 hrs after the last sun at a cost of R 70 cts to R1/kWh. They can work practically 24/7/365.

Your Captain speaking. After.

these guys watched Chernobyl ? Cant maintain a single coal power station or SOE and now they think nuclear will be best option. When things go wrong with nuclear its not just a rolling black out we have to worry about.

The first thing that happened during the transition of 1994 was dismantling of the SA nuclear processing facilities. Cadres cannot be trusted to manage this.

Sadly have to agree. But nuclear is actually the only option to cut greenhouse gasses and still have power, but it’s also way too late for that now.

20 years build time, and with the ANC running the show, make that 40 years and it’ll still be an under construction mess.

All this we must have a mix nonsense when half the mix is neither effective or doable is just another government cop out.

This article appears very biased in favour of coal and nuclear.Currently, wind and PV are already consistently supplying just under 2000MW throughout the day and this can be easily and quickly ramped up. Nuclear takes many, many years to implement, and is historically proven to be heavily tainted by corruption. Meanwhile, SA has one of the world’s best supplies of solar radiation as well as perpetual wind due to our 3000km curved coastline. We have massive areas of virtually unproductive land. We also have companies (and I am in no way connected with renewables) that can erect huge PV panel farms in a matter of months and wind turbines in a year or two. Concentrated solar power is already contributing about 200MW to the national grid, and can supply power for at least 6 hours after sundown. I suspect that big business (in the form of coal and nuclear power) is influencing people like Mantashe.

Every vested interest has its own opinion, but there can only be one set of facts. When scientifically proven facts are abandoned for the benefit of socialist and emotional ideals, the economy will act as the scoreboard.

More good sense from Sensei – and the CSIR. Scientifically proven facts that show the renewable energy is the way forward worldwide and is already CHEAPER than coal. Suggest the pro-coal/nuclear people on this website read the link on Sensei’s article.

A good article from Ciaran. What is refreshing is that the author has not drunk the renewables Koolaid that seems to have afflicted vast swathes of the population. Renewables will never be an option until they can supply the right amount of power, at the right time at the right price. It has never been done. The ANC ain’t gonna do it. The only solution to the debacle is breaking up Eskom and privatisation. Let the free market loose on the problem.

I am a proponent of the best energy mix possible, the two links above suggest that renewables should represent a significant portion of that. The bulk of the developed world is installing these technologies in very large quantities. I am therefore interested, on what basis do you make the rather large claim that renewables can NEVER work?

OKAY- you seem to be very good at posting links. I can also post links. However, can you name me one economy that relies on renewable sources of energy (excluding hydro) that does not import power from its neighbours when the renewables are not delivering? The clue is the right amount of power (not energy) at the right time at the right price. People make lots of comments about cheap energy (see US3c below). I’m sure that can be done but not when you need it. South Australia went this route and for much of the time the wind is useless. Thus they need to import power. Where will SA import power ? Zimbabwe? Alternatively you need a backup. So you are paying twice. That will reflect on the electricity bill. BTW what is the ‘best’ mix? Lowest price? energy security? Most reliable?

Your link appears to be one month of energy production from a wind plant or perhaps a collection of wind plants. One month of data is almost meaningless with out context, especially if it is on a aggregated basis. If the point you are trying to prove is variability then you don’t need a graph to demonstrate that.

I did not suggest that we install renewables only in South Africa, I suggest that we follow the CSIR’s recommendation for the least cost and cleanest solution which is base power gas, storage and renewables (including small hydro). This also spares South Africa’s balance sheet from a decade long and trillion rand nuclear build. Nothing in your post has suggested an alternative or study which has found that to be incorrect?

Okay- let me explain. This is the graph of the wind power production of South Australia for one month. The area under the curve is the energy. They have about 1.4GW installed. When the wind blows South Australia have more power than they need. When the wind does not blow, they have to import it from other Aussie states. If we transfer this to South Africa, there is nobody to import from. South Africa would thus require a backup system to produce electricity when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow which sounds like Joburg on the average winter evening like now. With a backup system, one is now paying twice in terms of capital outlay. This is reflected in the electricity price per kWh. Expensive. Oddly enough South Australia produces slightly more energy than they need. It’s just made at the wrong time. They don’t need more renewables. In fact, I have a 6.6 kW system on my roof which makes a lot more energy than I need, unfortunately all at the wrong time-while I am at work. I make on average 28kWh per day and use less than 20kWh. I thus have to buy electricity in the evenings. This is the problem: the right amount of power, at the right time at the right price. One is up against storage issues and the second law of thermodynamics. South Australia had all the ‘expert’ advice and they drunk the koolaid and it blew up spectacularly. South Africa does not have a NSW, Tasmania or Victoria to lean in times of trouble. The only solution is to privatise the entire system and let the free market fix it as the ANC obviously cannot. If there is a place for renewables, then the market will find it. My one son describes his older bother as “reliable”. Reliably unreliable- never on time. This describes solar and wind to a T.

Thanks for the explanation. My understanding is the issue with South Australia was a capacity and not renewables issue. They import power from Victoria when demand is high, that line got knocked out by a freak storm. Whether they had 100% renewables or 100% coal, it would have been built to a certain capacity which was not enough to service peak demand and hence a trip was inevitable in either scenario. Coal or Nuclear cannot produce more than nameplate capacity.

I have not recommended we go 100% renewables and rely on a neighbor for base load. I am pointing to the CSIR report, they have said storage, gas base load and renewables. If you have a least cost and just generally better alternative then we can discuss the research and facts that have gone into that model.

Sorry but when I hear ‘ANC’ and ‘nuclear’ in the same sentence I get a shiver down my spine … a bit like ‘Jeffrey Darmer’ and ‘indigent male hitchhikers’

“Independent energy consultants have for years warned of the dangers of over-committing to expensive renewable energies, which was the direction being taken under Radebe. Those economies that went this route, notably Denmark and South Australia, have experienced complete grid shutdowns in recent years. Renewables make relatively little contribution to base load energy due to the reliance on variable solar and wind patterns, and are currently the most expensive energy being fed into the grid at more than 200c per kilowatt hour (kWh), compared with about 30c for Koeberg’s nuclear energy.”

Stopped reading after this little bit of propaganda. Ciaran clearly placing his flag in the coal/nuclear corner, which is fine but this is a huge misrepresentation.

Please name the independent energy consultants you are referring to? CSIR have done extensive research on this topic and repeatedly noted that renewable is the cheaper and better option overall.

Mentioning South Australia is a standard trope, what about the rest of Australia? South Australia had their main line to reserve power (Victoria) wiped out by a storm which then got twisted into it being renewables problem despite good performance during those storms.

Denmark’s energy prices are high because of tax and it has very little to do with renewables.

Lastly you refer to projects awarded around 2010 for renewables, the latest rounds were around the 70c mark if I recall correctly. You are also referring to a 50 year old Nuclear plant as your comparative cost. How about updating that figure for both then comparing not only cost per KW but every other meaningful metric.

Looks to me like Ciaran is a lobbyist of some type and Moneyweb are giving him a platform to write ridiculous articles. The optimal energy mix should be sought out, that has a lot of gas, a lot of renewable s, some clean(er) coal and possibly nuclear but unlikely with our balance sheet.

Wow – I agree with the last comment I read. Moneyweb most of your articles are great. Ciaran is clearly not N energy expert

Other countries are bidding solar at 3 USc/kWh.(45 zar c/ kWh) We havent had bids for several years in SA now. Our last bids were actually under 60c/kWh. Which is why Radebr gave the go ahead on the 27 projects.

Coal takes 5-8 years to develop. Renewable is highly predictable. Yes at times it may have a shortage which is why Australia bought a monstrous Tesla battery. Go and read articles on the savings from that.

We DO NOT need more coal. We need good policy that ensures a fair amount of renewable in towns where the coal will shutdown. And we need storage. Hot water /batteries/pumped hydro/ mine shaft hydro/ flywheel/ some gas

We CAN NOT afford nuclear.
The 3 most corrupt industries in the world
Arms/ weapons
Fossil fuels

Hear, hear Gina. The world’s CO2 limit is rapidly being reached, with incalculable future consequences for our planet. Almost every day, we hear of massive new storms occurring, and they are ever-increasing. Coal is a huge polluter (especially when Eskom admit their ‘cleansing’ operations’ haven’t worked for months). Worldwide, it is a dying industry. The simple facts are: 1) yes, we need baseload power to cover the 6pm high. But most factories operate during the day, consuming much power. As do offices with airconditioning. We have massive resources of sun and wind that can supply the bulk of these daily power requirements. We can rapidly bring these into action. Eskom can buy cheap renewable power and sell it on to municipalities. So what is stopping this – except vested interests? A pity to see blatantly fake news on Moneyweb dissing renewables. Not your general standard.

Germany had the same problem. After the Fukoshima accident in Japan they started to close their Nuclear Power stations and they moved supply over too renewable s. This caused instability and massive price hikes. Needless to say, they are shifting the the supply balance back to Nuclear. If you require a competitive manufacturing and mining industry there is only one choice : Nuclear. We require a efficient storage unit which can store allot of electric energy in a small space for Renewable s to compete. For it to compete effectively you require Renewable’s at dirt cheap prices. Sorry to the greenies but that is the truth. We require a mechanism for the private industry to built Nuclear or Manager it or both.

Germany has one quarter of the solar radiation of South Africa. And much less constant wind as they are not 2/3rds surrounded by a coastline as we are. A very poor argument against renewables.

This article is biased BS, and is most likely setting the stage for further looting through costly nuclear and coal projects.

R2.00 per kWh for renewables? Rubbish!
US$0.02 and even less per kWh (That is around ZAR 0.30/kWh)

We cannot afford to pollute our air any more.

One wouldn’t drink from a stream that had an upstream pipe dumping toxins into the water, why do we think it is ok to breath air that has pipes dumping toxins into it?

This latest trend in SA to burn our rubbish and heat our homes by burning dirty wood fuel (as electricity is now so costly) should come to an end too.

What happened to the by-law that SA cities are smoke free cities?

How do we enforce our constitutional right to live in a clean and healthy environment?

End of comments.





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