Long-awaited draft Integrated Resource Plan 2023 released

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The long-anticipated Draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2023 has been released. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy made the document public on Thursday night.

The IRP is the country’s energy policy document that anticipates electricity demand and seeks to provide possible electricity supply technologies that can meet that demand over the medium term.

A blend of coal, gas, nuclear, renewable energy, battery storage and other technologies have been presented in the IRP’s energy mix to better ensure the security of supply at an affordable cost, while at the same time reducing the country’s carbon footprint.

The energy industry has been eagerly awaiting the latest draft of the IRP. The last one was for 2019 – before COVID and before the worst load shedding the country was to experience.

Draft Integrated Resource Plan released

The initial reaction from some quarters has been one of disappointment.

Chris Yellad, Managing Director of EE Publishers says, “It is still hot off the press and I’m still studying it, but I’ve spent several hours last night and today looking at it and, yes, it is fundamentally different in its whole approach and its style and it’s content to the IRP of 2019. Fundamentally, I want to say clearly that I think this is a very shoddy piece of work. it is significantly poorer as a planning document than the previous IRP documents.”

The economic modelling assumptions on which the different scenario modelling is based are not included in this document and are not available for scrutiny and I have no doubt that this is a deliberate action because if you use the assumptions that you want to use in order to get the result that you want to get, it is best not to declare those assumptions because it opens up arguments as to the validity of the work that’s been presented.”

The IRP is a document that makes many assumptions about electricity demand and supply, the economic conditions of the country and the technological costs of generating electricity. Yelland says that South Africa has a wealth of competent economic modellers, but that the latest IRP document doesn’t suggest such competence was used.

Yelland claims, “There is no indication in the document on what technology costs were used when modelling the economics of the different technologies used. None of that is presented. there are no cost implications given for the different assumptions/scenarios that you may want to look at. it is frankly impossible for anybody on the basis of what has been presented to replicate or to try and model the output of this IRP by independent modellers.”

While renewable energy received focus in the document, there was an emphasis on prolonging the life of Eskom’s coal fleet beyond their scheduled decommissioning dates, and a call to start investing in gas-to-power technologies.

The IRP document also mentions research being made into clean coal technology as well as the use of small modular nuclear reactors. But there’s a question about how realistic these solutions might be.

“First of all when it comes to small modular nuclear reactors, they are not available commercially… there is no nuclear power scheduled in the years to 2030. But beyond 2030, there’s talk about it, but the point is they’re not available commercially, and they’re not licenced for use in SA.

“You cannot go out and buy one… when it comes to carbon capture and storage, the same thing applies. Yes, one could deploy carbon capture storage utilisation at significantly increased costs to the extent where, really, this has not become a viable option globally yet,” Yelland explains.

Despite the private sector having spent billions of rand on investing in renewable energy following the government’s lifting of electricity generation limits in 2022,

Yelland says that the IRP 2023 document doesn’t seem to be ambitious about the private sector’s contribution to future generations, placing more emphasis on the public sector instead.

With initial concerns about the document’s details being raised, public comment and engagement around the document are likely to be robust, particularly among relevant sector bodies.