Loadshedding back if SA fail to act

Cape Town – South Africans could again experience power cuts between 2011 to 2016 unless extraordinary measures are taken to get independent power producers up and running and energy efficiency improved, reads a project-team report on the dangers to electricity supply.

The so-called medium-term risk-reduction project was announced on Friday, together with the long-awaited integrated electricity resource plan (IRP2) from the Energy Department.

The IRP2 was drawn up by the department after almost a year of negotiations with many players in the electricity industry.

One IRP2 proposal is that the country’s electricity mix be reduced from 90% coal down to 48% by 2030. The remainder must come from nuclear and renewable energy sources.

Announcements regarding implementation and the creation of an independent network operator will probably be made this week.

An independent network operator will eliminate conflicts of interest between power utility Eskom and future independent electricity producers.

Now, at least, solutions to the threat of electricity shortages are being sought in a systematic way, said Mike Rossouw from the energy-intensive consumer group, a senior member of the team that compiled the risk report, on Sunday.

Much work was however still required, and in some cases it would cost a great deal to get the solutions implemented.

Two new threats have been pointed out in the report: the reduced time spent on maintaining Eskom’s fleet of power stations – which will increase the danger of unplanned cuts in coming years – and the declining quality of coal being delivered to the power stations.

A model developed together with the IRP2 shows that power stations need to observe an 85% energy-availability rate to meet future demand. This is probably too little to do adequate maintenance work, according to the report.

Less maintenance means more unplanned switching off of units and less availability – a vicious circle.

Untimely switch-offs of generation units increased sharply last year. The report says this trend is likely to continue.

The compilers expect power interruptions similar to those in 2008 unless private power generators are urgently brought into play.

Any delays in building the Medupi and Kusile power stations will simply aggravate the situation.

Plans to avoid a crisis could save an effective 3 500MW of generation capacity by 2016.

These would include 1 100MW that could be saved before 2013 through demand-side management programmes from Eskom.

Other plans include big companies’ joint and privately owned power-generating projects, which could save 1 000MW to 1 500MW.

From 2012 renewable energy from independent power producers could contribute 1 000MW.

According to the summary of the draft IRP2 the aim is for an electricity mix of 48% baseload electricity from coal by 2030 compared with the current 90%, 14% baseload electricity from nuclear compared with the current 6%-odd, 16% from renewable energy, 9% from peak period open-cycle gas turbines, 6% from peak period pump storage schemes, 5% from middle-merit gas-fired power stations and 2% from imported hydroelectricity.

To improve nuclear’s contribution six new nuclear power stations will need to be built by 2023, departmental spokesperson Bheki Khumalo told Bloomberg.

A decision regarding the construction of nuclear power stations needs to be taken urgently, the department says in summation.

Tristen Taylor, project coordinator of environmental group Earthlife Africa, sharply criticised the reference to nuclear power, saying that this would have significant risks because it is expensive technology requiring large-scale state subsidies.

In a statement Earthlife Africa referred to the long delays and cost overruns at nuclear power projects elsewhere in the world.

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