Our Burning Planet


‘A shoddy piece of work’ — experts decry South Africa’s new blueprint for energy

‘A shoddy piece of work’ — experts decry South Africa’s new blueprint for energy
Energy experts say the draft 2023 Integrated Resource Plan has slightly less coal, lots of gas but not enough renewable energy for the future. (Photos: iStock / Gallo Images / Jacques Stander // Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The newly released Integrated Resource Plan — which determines South Africa’s energy mix for the next few decades — has scaled back on renewables, pumped up gas and is delaying the shutdown schedule of old coal plants, with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy saying the cost of pollution is far less than the cost of energy shortages.

‘I can’t stand here and tell the country that there will be no load shedding going into the future,” said Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa during an update on South Africa’s energy action plan on Tuesday, 9 January.

Ramokgopa’s comments mirror what the latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), gazetted on 4 January by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, emphasised: South Africa’s power supply will be constrained for the next six years due to an “electricity supply gap”, despite efforts to add new supply to the grid.

The long-awaited IRP  predicts how much power the country will need in the coming decades and runs a least-cost scenario to determine what combination of energy will most economically deliver energy security. 

However, the draft IRP 2023 — open for public comments until 23 February — does not seem to indicate a security of energy.

Energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard, from UCT’s Power Future Labs, said on X that the IRP 2023 “is an admission of failure around eliminating load-shedding and it fails to fulfil its declared purpose of ensuring electricity security while minimising environmental impacts and the cost of supply”.

The plan has two timelines. From now until 2030, it focuses on addressing existing projects, those in the pipeline and what the system requires to close the supply gap. From 2031 to 2050, it focuses on six long-term electricity pathways to guide policies.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Government’s Integrated Resource Plan acknowledges rolling blackouts will be with SA for years

Compared to the 2019 IRP, this plan has ramped up gas procurement, delayed the decommissioning of coal plants and reduced the procurement of renewables.

More gas, fewer renewables

In South Africa, wind and solar comprise just 5% of the electricity produced, according to the International Energy Agency. This is far below the main player, coal, which contributes more than 80% of the electricity generated.

According to the new plan, renewable energy (solar, wind and hydro) will go from 5% to only 22% of the energy mix by 2030. This is below the 33% the IRP 2019 had planned.

“That’s a fraction of what was in the 2019 IRP, and a tiny fraction of what Eskom itself and its modelling projected, which is 50,000 to 60,000MW,” Eberhard said on CapeTalk.

When asked in a media briefing why there were fewer renewables in this plan, the director-general of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), Jacob Mbele, said it was in part due to the reduction of energy demand since the last IRP,  the delay in shutting down plants and private sector projects in the pipeline.

“So, if demand is down, you expect obviously, the quantum would amount to less and that’s not just for renewable, but the overall system requirements,” said Mbele.

The new IRP proposes the procurement of six gigawatts (GW) of new gas-to-power plants, an increase from the 3GW limit in the 2019 IRP.

South Africa energy

Director-general of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy Jacob Mbele. (Photo: @UNDPSouth Africa / X, formerly Twitter)

According to estimates by Tobias Bischof-Niemz, who established and led the Energy Centre at the CSIR and is CEO of renewable energy company Enertag, this means gas would make up 28% of South Africa’s energy mix by 2030. Coal would remain the biggest provider, at around 44% of the energy mix.

The conservation organisation WWF SA said on Tuesday that making such a case for a fossil-fuel-heavy electricity generation system would leave the South African economy facing an uncompetitive future.

“This is not only a step back for the DMRE in terms of consultation and clarity of work, it is a high-risk pitch for special interests at the cost of the citizens’ futures. We can and must do better,” said James Reeler, senior manager for climate action with WWF South Africa.

In terms of nuclear power, the IRP acknowledges that extending the life of South Africa’s one nuclear power station, Koeberg, beyond 2024 is critical, as it provides 1,860MW of power — about 5% of Eskom’s total generation capacity. 

Delaying the decommissioning of old coal plants

Under the 2019 IRP, 11.3GW of coal power from seven old plants was set to be decommissioned by 2030. But because of energy generation constraints, last year, Eskom revised this plan, delaying the decommissioning.

The new IRP is vague on decommissioning targets and Bheki Nxumalo, Eskom’s group executive for generation, said on Tuesday the cost analysis of delaying decommissioning was still being finalised.

The DMRE acknowledged that delaying the decommissioning schedule would have an impact on compliance with Minimum Emission Standards (MES), which by law are meant to be adhered to.

Robyn Hugo, director of climate change engagement at the shareholder activist organisation Just Share, has told Daily Maverick, “The minimum emission standards, which Sasol and Eskom argue are so onerous, are in fact hopelessly weak and inadequate. The SO2 [sulphur dioxide] MES are some 28 times weaker than China’s, and 10 times weaker than India’s.”

Despite being so weak, these limits aren’t being adhered to. The MES standards that were meant to come into place in 2020 have been postponed to 2025.

‘The cost of pollution’

“The plan, obviously, is always meant to reduce emissions,” said Mbele, explaining that the DMRE was not prescriptive on what the solution should be in terms of the challenge of keeping units on the grid and meeting Minimum Emission Standards.

Hugo noted that the 2023 IRP identified MES compliance as one of the “emerging risks” to be “managed”, and that a “balance will have to be found between energy security, the adverse health impacts of poor air quality and the economic cost associated with these plants shutting down.  

“It is not difficult to imagine that, as always, this ‘balance’ will not favour those worst impacted by the deadly impacts of extremely high levels of air pollution.”  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Our Burning Planet

Environmental Minister Barbara Creecy has appointed a technical panel to advise the DMRE on “practical options” to resolve the issue.

While this report is expected in February, the DMRE’s ​​Sonwabo Damba said that they indicated in the IRP that when the 2020 MES actually comes into place, they would affect existing capacity.

“What we’ve shown is that quite a substantial amount of gigawatts would be stranded, because a lot of these Eskom power stations do not comply [with MES] because they have not been retrofitted with emission abatement technologies,” said Damba on Tuesday.

The DMRE said that if Eskom were to adhere to these MES — without installing emission abatement technology, which is hugely expensive — many Eskom coal plants would have to shut down (not just old ones) meaning South Africa would lose 16,000MW of generation capacity immediately, and 30,000MW by 2025 when the current postponement of the “2020” MES standards lapses.

“And it is our view that there is no point in doing an analysis on that because then you don’t have a system if that happens,” Damba said.

Mbele emphasised, “The cost of that pollution is far less than zero supply of energy to the economy.”

While the cost of losing coal plants to adhere to emissions standards is significant, delaying the plants that were originally meant to be decommissioned has economic as well as health impacts.

Daily Maverick has reported that the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea) found that if the decommissioning of South Africa’s coal plants only begins in 2030 or beyond, it would cause a projected 15,300 excess air pollution-related deaths and economic costs of R345-billion.

The Crea report also found that if the rate of decommissioning in the 2030s and 2040s is not accelerated from current plans, further delays in the decommissioning of other units would increase the health impacts to 32,300 deaths from air pollution and economic costs to R721-billion. 

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

The ideal energy mix

With experts calling this new IRP “depressing” and  “a shoddy piece of work”, what would the ideal energy mix look like for South Africa?

Hundreds of studies globally have demonstrated the feasibility of cost-effective full energy provision with higher [renewable energy] penetration rates than 95%, using just extant technologies such as batteries, thermal storage, compressed air storage and gravity storage, with horizon technologies such as green hydrogen enabling seasonal backup,” Reeler of WWF SA said.

“The IRP appears to have eschewed most of these for no clear reason.”

UCT’s Energy Systems Research Group (ESRG) modelled possible pathways to net zero CO2 emissions for South Africa by 2050. Their findings, published last year, were: “The most economical pathway to stay within a fair share carbon budget, and ultimately achieve a net zero CO2 target, is large-scale investment in wind and solar PV generation.”

As seen in the graph below, the energy mix that would keep South Africa within a greenhouse gas budget of eight gigatons of CO2 equivalent (cumulative from now until 2050) would consist of a majority of wind and solar PV, with some gas but with nuclear and coal tapering out by 2050.

South Africa energy

New generating capacity added by technology in the net zero pathway with a GHG budget of 8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent from 2021 to 2050. (Graphic: UCT Energy Systems Research Group)

​​The study acknowledged that while existing coal capacity is still cheaper to run in the short and medium term, the coal capacity is curtailed in response to the greenhouse gases constraint.

Harro von Blottnitz, an engineering professor at UCT and director of the ESRG, said that while their model involved some gas power capacity for net zero futures, these plants would run at fairly low load factors. The ESRG is  finalising an improved version of this net zero study.

Energy expert and engineer Chris Yelland said that the IRP should determine the ideal energy mix, but “the DMRE are deciding [what they want] … and then working backwards”.

Yelland said an energy mix that meets least-cost and socioeconomic objectives would include some legacy coal, nuclear, hydro and diesel for open-cycle gas turbines with a lot more new wind and solar accompanied by better storage and gas for backup and peaking purposes

Eberhard, speaking on Cape Talk: “This plan is looking back, it’s not a forward-looking plan.”

He said there was a stark contrast with other coal-reliant countries, like Australia, which has planned to have 82% renewables in its energy mix by 2030. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    No surprise on the Gas front – Karpowership and corruption potential rears its ugly head

    • Antonio Tonin says:

      It seems that Karpowership has hopefully fallen by the wayside. Eskom has withdrawn the transmission capacity reserve that had been held for them because they failed to reach financial closure by end December. I’m sure that Gwede is feeling pretty bleak about this – all those brown envelopes will remain empty!

      • Bink Bin Oik says:

        This, imo, South Africa picks Russia’s Gazprombank as PetroSA refinery partner, is the new concern now instead of Karpowerships. Honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they were a smoke screen all along.

    • Winston Bigsby says:

      No surprise at the shoddy work from the Comrade Ruminants then? Lets get rid of them and have some competent people plan something sensible like ““Hundreds of studies globally have demonstrated the feasibility of cost-effective full energy provision with higher [renewable energy] penetration rates than 95%, using just extant technologies such as batteries, thermal storage, compressed air storage and gravity storage, with horizon technologies such as green hydrogen enabling seasonal backup,”.
      Bye bye comrades, explain it to your Grandkids..

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Amazingly, parties seem disinvested/ disinterested in campaigning on power for the future in manifestos. Surprising cos the lack of power is in our faces daily. Why is this not being picked up?

    • Bob Dubery says:

      Who wants that job?

      There is no quick fix here, and I think all the opposition parties know that and so they don’t want to make promises they might have to keep.

      • Ra Ma says:

        On the contrary, the marginal cost of energy is about 15 US cents per kWh, from the OCGT base-load, while the cost of foregone opportunity is north of that.

        Offering IPPs half that cost to produce electricity would solve the electricity crisis in 18 months. And that’s assuming 12 months for environmental studies. Even burdening the IPPs with the cost of grid improvements, they would love to solve this, but the government and the coal lobby prefer to block it. In addition, less marginal pricing would allow solar parks to be closer to consumption and therefore put less stress on the national grid.

        Let’s put a 200 hectare, USD150 million, 200 MW solar park next to Cape Town in 18 months.

  • James Francis says:

    I guess the gas lobby has given Minister Mantashe chance to eat a little more.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The 2030 plan assumes 6300 MW of private solar energy generated and consumed. In effect a reduction in demand on grid. We will run through 6300MW before 2026 having completed 4000MW in 2023.


  • Hermann Funk says:

    As usual, they cover their incompetence in implementing with plans. IRP 2019, IRP 2023. There will be many more (if the corrupt ANC will remain in power) but nothing will change and load shedding level 10 will be the future.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Shoddy is too nice a word,we cant expect any success with the ANC

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Mr Mbele should perhaps relocate from Pretoria to adjacent to a coal fired power station

  • Peter Dexter says:

    I believe where the ANC is involved in planning, the solutions will revolve around the largest build costs which produce the greatest potential commissions. Tenders will be manipulated like the Mossgass one to exclude all except the preferred bidder. (Expect Russian supply) The generation of electricity and growing the economy are secondary considerations. The environmental impacts are merely window dressing. The entire focus will be on how much ends up in certain offshore trusts.

  • John Cartwright says:

    The IRP is not merely a shoddy piece of work. It’s a gross capitulation to the selfish short-term interests of the coal barons and other predators. Idiot Nero’s fiddling while the earth burns.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    It is what we have come to expect from these incompetent, corrupt and pathetic buffoons posing as government. The whole world is moving to green energy and we are doing the opposite, in a land full of sunshine and wind to boot. Much like everything they touch and do, it all turns to theft, breakage and destruction. Party and personal interest reign supreme over the national interest with these criminals and parasites. It is all about the feeding trough for the elite, connected and cadres!!

  • Bink Bin Oik says:

    Telling on the Gas front. “South Africa picks Russia’s Gazprombank as PetroSA refinery partner”, no wonder we need to ensure we have a market for gas-to-power, need to keep the comrades all over the world happy.
    Source: reuters

  • Mike Atkinson says:

    Curious that on the one hand, according to Mbele, there are less centrally procured renewables in the IRP as there is less demand but on the other hand, the plan calls on extending the life of the existing coal fleet. A better option would be to have more centrally procured renewables and reduce the reliance on the coal fleet. And, as Johan Buys pointed out, there is effectively substantially more renewables going into the grid in any event due to private solar installations.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    We only have three ‘ministers’ involved in the energy fustercluck. I’d suggest to the president that he appoint a few more. That at least will provide for more hilarious sound bites while the countries economy collapses as the remaining foreign investors give up on us.

  • Michele Rivarola says:

    No surprises the IRP is drawn up by fossil fuel sycophants intent on paying back favours and deposits ahead of elections. The promises of instant riches are far to alluring for some of the politically connected business elite to ignore. Look at the Powership share ownership debacle as a case in point. The country and the wellbeing of its citizens come second to self interest. Fortunately the private sector sees things differently and ESKOM’s and the DMRE’s power plants will lie idle as a reflection of more corruption and nepotism. This said they first need to find gas and secondly jump the various hoops of the never ending court challenges; it will be a case of who survives the longest.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    What an utterly depressing read. What happened to the story about Mantashe being sidelined? Was that just wishful thinking? It seems the government is quite happy to lumber along in dinosaur fashion, lining their pockets as they go. To hell with what could, should and needs to be done. Sadly nothing and no one to challenge them.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    As usual in any branch of government the cadres and their consultants are just not up to the job. They do not know enough to know what they do not know!!

  • jj.willi96 says:

    If only this was a surprise. The DMRE has a tendency to favour fossil-led initiatives and often roll back renewable commitments

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    “So, if demand is down, you expect obviously, the quantum would amount to less and that’s not just for renewable, but the overall system requirements,” said Mbele.

    Mr Mbele, I’m unclear as to how a change in the total demand justifies a change in the mix ratio. Could you please explain?

  • Steven Burnett says:

    Reduced demand?…that’s because the economy is in the dwang, electricity pricing went up far above CPI and loadshedding. How do you drive a bus around those obvious points, which alone are each reason enough but combined all point to a requirement for reliable and (relatively) cheaper power to see increased demand and economic activity?

    The reduction on renewables is bizarre, and needs an actual explanation. It is easiest the best solution from environmental, practical and ultimately financial reasons. Mostly funded by private investors, what more could a cash strapped gov want? For those pointing fingers at ANC meddling for fossil fuels, the president’s brother in law (Patrice Motsepe) is of course heavily invested in the sector so it possibly points to a ‘power’ play behind the scenes.

  • Tony B says:

    Integrated Resource Plan, energy action plan, public comments, timelines, electricity pathways to guide policies, estimates, technical panels appointed, analysis, studies and so on but …
    What a waste of time and money.

    In my view, by 2030, most of us who can afford to pay for electricity will be off the [Eskom] grid with our own generated electricity [solar PV panels] or buying electricity from a nearby private supplier.
    We are reaching grid parity as Eskom tariffs increase and the price of solar PV installations decrease.
    In addition, solar system installers are offering “rent to buy” plans for a little more than what you are currently paying for electricity [when available] from Eskom.

    The same goes for industrial centres apart from [perhaps] large factories. At least those who will still be operating in SA by 2030.

    Most Eskom customers in 2030 will be individuals that cannot afford or choose not to pay for electricity.
    Where then is Eskom [or local municipalities] going to get capital [from electricity] to pay for these wonderful plans?

  • Nick Miller says:

    All down to the political clout of the coal lobby!

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