Posted on March 18, 2013

This is the view of Dr Jörg Lalk, Coordinator: Institutional Research Theme on Energy, at the University of Pretoria (UP).

Dr Lalk’s comments come as the world observes Energy Month.

According to Dr Lalk, the biggest problem facing the energy sector is that the government's Integrated Resource Plan (known as the IRP2010) is not without shortcomings.

For example, in developing the plan government made the assumption that GDP growth would be between 4 and 5% until 2030, says Dr Lalk.

‘We have not gotten close to that figure in any year since 2010 and according to the International Monetary Fund, the current predictions for South Africa’s GDP in 2013 is about 2,5%, although Minister Pravin Gordhan predicted about 2,7% during his February 2013 budget speech.’

As a result, government’s large-scale capacity expansion programme to double capacity to about 85 GW could be ill-considered and could lead to surplus energy in the future.

According to StatsSA, about 234 174 GWh was generated during 2012. This is in contrast to the 241 170 GWh generated nationally during 2007, just before the dark days of load shedding in early 2008. However, while there is still a need for new energy solutions, the current plans far outstrip the expected needs as a result of lower GDP growth than originally predicted.

‘This surely begs the question whether we really need the 85 GW capacity planned for by the IRP2010 or are we again heading for the situation of the 1980s when Eskom was so awash with capacity that it had to mothball older power stations. Again, without trustworthy data government is bound to make costly mistakes.

‘When I make these statements one also has to be careful in that the new capacity listed by the IRP2010 includes 17 800 MW renewables, mostly solar and wind. When it comes to these technologies one will do well to remember that the figures shown in the IRP2010 are "nameplate" figures, ie the capacity available under near-ideal conditions, such as when the wind blows all the time. That clearly is unrealistic and at best one can hope for about 20 to 25% availability from wind power and as low as 17% from solar power (quoting experiences from overseas wind and solar utilities),’ says Dr Lalk.

The only way that this can change overnight would be a breakthrough in energy storage technologies which UP is researching as part of the larger Institutional Research Theme on Energy.

However, until that happens, the irony remains that while there is an urgent need for more electricity today we may be moving towards excess capacity by 2030. Addressing the current shortages can only be achieved by saving energy – both by the government and Average Joe.

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