South Africa needs 16,000MW of new power generation capacity by 2030, but the government has not procured a single megawatt of additional power.
Over the past week South Africa experienced its latest bout of load-shedding. This time it was blamed on heavy rains which caused problems feeding coal to boilers at the Medupi power station.
While the reasons for load-shedding differ from week to week, the underlying problem remains the same – there is not enough electricity generation to meet the demand from customers.
Bad news for South Africans is that the situation is set to get much worse unless immediate and decisive action is taken.
Even Eskom CEO André de Ruyter warned that the country has “some real challenges” in terms of electricity generation capacity.
In a recent presentation, De Ruyter explained South Africa has an installed generation capacity of 46,000MW.
Of this 46,000MW, around 11,000MW is unavailable at any given time because of unplanned maintenance. These outages are caused by the unreliability of the generation fleet.
Another 5,000MW is offline because of planned maintenance, while various other problems take out 2,000MW more.
Effectively, of the 46,000MW installed capacity there is only 28,000MW available to South African electricity users.
In terms of the country’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019), Eskom is going to retire about 10,000MW over the next decade.
“That leaves us with a very significant shortfall of 16,000MW which needs to be supplemented urgently,” said De Ruyter.
To address this shortfall Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe is punting new coal and nuclear generation plants. This is misguided.
De Ruyter explained the timeline in which the new generation capacity must be procured is forcing the country’s hand in terms of which technologies to use.
There are only three options which have an average built time quick enough to provide the additional power we need by 2030 – solar, wind, and natural gas.
Coal and nuclear, which have a build time of between 10 and 15 years, can be discounted in the short and medium term because they will not be able to come online by 2030.
De Ruyter believes natural gas offers a particularly compelling case to bring new capacity online quickly.
“We would really like to explore what opportunities there are for us to repurpose some of our existing coal-fired power stations to natural gas, as there is a significant cost saving associated with it,” he said.