The recent Windaba, South Africa’s premier wind energy conference and exhibition, included a study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which revealed that South Africa could radically reduce energy costs if it can achieve a 70% renewable energy share by 2040.
The study, entitled ‘Least-cost Electricity Mix for South Africa by 2040’, considers two scenarios, one of which is aligned with the Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) of 2010, and one that updates it with modern resource demands.
The former incurs large building costs from new coal and nuclear projects. Dubbed ‘Business as Usual’, the option relies mostly on coal, more on nuclear energy and moderately increases the energy obtained from renewable sources such as solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, concentrated solar power (CSP) systems and wind turbines.
The second scenario is the ‘Re-optimised’ setup, which results in CO2 emissions 60% lower than those of the previous scenario, 60% lower water usage (40 billion litres saved per annum), and a saving of R87-billion per annum by 2040. This translates into electricity costs roughly 18% lower per kWh. Even if renewable energy was 50% more expensive than assumed, the ‘Re-optimised’ option would still be cheaper than the ‘Business as Usual’ approach.
Importantly, the study removed the artificial delivery constraints of wind and solar energy, which were arbitrarily inferred and never accepted by the Cabinet. With these restrictions gone, the need for new coal and new nuclear power is completely removed.
Over the next three decades the plan aims to cut coal in half, keep nuclear low, and greatly increase sourcing from solar PV and wind power, which can provide more energy than coal currently delivers.
The re-optimisation by the CSIR takes into account the considerably lower electricity demand forecast for the years ahead, the significantly reduced cost of electricity from solar PV and wind capacity, and South Africa’s international commitments to constrain CO2 emissions.
“Avoiding CO2 emissions and least-cost is not a trade-off any more – South Africa can decarbonise its electricity sector at negative carbon-avoidance cost”, concluded CSIR Energy Centre director Dr Tobias Bischof-Niemz.
The Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy (MACE) has yet to submit the draft IRP Update to the Cabinet.