Exclusive interview with Des Muller, Director, NuEnergy Developments, South Africa. At the upcoming Nuclear Power Africa conference during African Utility Week in Cape Town in May, he is part of a panel discussion on the topic: “South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) – how much nuclear energy could be included in the country’s future energy mix?”
NUCLEAR INTERVIEW: “A nuclear build programme in South Africa offers a significant scope of opportunity for the local industry over a sustained period of time that can address real and needed socio-economic development and industrial transformation.”
Let’s start with some background on NuEnergy Developments and your role there and in particular your work in the nuclear sector. NuEnergy Developments is a networked, energy-centric consultancy which supports the development and industrialisation of a balanced sustainable energy portfolio for South Africa and the rest of Africa. We believe that sustainability in the energy sector can be achieved through a sensible mix of thermal, renewable and nuclear energies.
NuEnergy strives to create an energy sector that delivers safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy for the country it serves, while ensuring that its projects and operations provide ample opportunity for sustainable growth and development in the local industries.
NuEnergy Developments draws on a wealth of energy project development and delivery experience in the corporate sector across a wide range of power generation technologies and construction disciplines including: Thermal Energy, Renewable Energy and Nuclear Energy.
In the Nuclear Energy sector, NuEnergy is focused on aligning the local industry to tangible opportunities in a nuclear build program by getting the industry ready in time to safely participate in the procurement process. Given the high “barriers to entry” that need to be navigated, early stages of industry development will be key to the successful industrialisation of a nuclear build program.
Tell us about your work on the NIASA Supply Chain Development Sub-Committee.
The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) is a nuclear industry awareness group which deals with advocacy work for the nuclear industry and acts as a voice between its Members and Government. It also provides the industry with insight and guidance into Education & Training and Supply Chain Development in the nuclear energy sector. NIASA educates the public and industry on the facts and benefits of nuclear energy through conferences, publications and orientation workshops. Everyone is welcome to join us and network with fellow industry stakeholders in an open, transparent and informative environment.
There is a lot of debate about the positives of nuclear in South Africa – what in your view is the one top argument in favour?
Like all forms of energy generation, nuclear energy has its benefits and challenges. However, the general perception around it is not well understood and often misled, which sometimes becomes a senseless debate in some sectors of our public.
In sustainable energy planning for a country, the three key criteria to be met are: Energy Security (supply meets demand) – Energy Equity (access to affordable energy by all) and Environmental Sustainability (air quality and climate change mitigation). Based on empirical evidence around the world, nuclear energy is one of the most effective contributor to all three criteria which will always make it a sensible component in energy planning.
However nuclear power plants, for safety reasons, are understandably complex and comparatively expensive to build, and therefore require careful planning and financed through viable funding solutions being offered by the nuclear vendor countries today.
The higher build costs of a nuclear power plant combined with its low running costs, the quantity of continuous electricity it produces and the long operating life of the plant (60 to 80 years), makes nuclear energy one of the most affordable producers of “total lifecycle cost” electricity, second only to large scale Hydro. Koeberg’s lowest cost of energy in South Africa is evidence of this. Being a clean source of energy, nuclear will be even more competitive when carbon taxes are introduced in SA in 2019.
Nuclear power plants produce very little waste. All of Koeberg’s spent fuel, to date, is safely stored in pools inside the plant and occupy a space half the size of a tennis court. And that’s after having supplied half of the Western Cape’s energy needs for 34 years. Reprocessing of spent fuel can reduce the long term waste volumes by 80%. Long term storage of low and high level waste is an exact science and successfully performed around the world including South Africa.
What surprises you about the energy industry?
With the great progress we are making with the Regional Power Pools in Africa, I am surprised that there are still over 600 million people in Africa without access to electricity. I am also surprised that after more than a decade, we have not unlocked the great energy potential we have on the continent, which suggests a more “Regional Think” is needed in African energy planning. Large scale base-load power plants are particularly well suited to Regional Grids and should be unlocked.
What is your vision for this sector?
The energy sector should play a more versatile role by providing safe, reliable, affordable and clean energy for the country. This can only be achieved through a balanced combination of Thermal, Renewable/Hydro and Nuclear Energy. Sustainable energy systems should also be able to augment our water supplies, power an imminent electric transport sector and reduce our high transmission losses through decentralized power generation at the load-centers.
Regional Grids should play a more effective role in energizing the African continent but these also need to be integrated with smart micro-grids at the “edge of the grid” to better manage our energy demand profiles and exploit the benefits of today’s digital energy systems. Excess energy produced in a country should be easily traded on the Regional Power Pools in a US Dollar-Based currency and help stabilize our national grids.
You are taking part in the nuclear conference at African Utility Week this year – what will be the theme of your address and your message?
A nuclear build programme in South Africa offers a significant scope of opportunity for the local industry over a sustained period of time that can address real and needed socio-economic development and industrial transformation. However the industry will need be guided and prepared well in advance to realize these opportunities, especially in countries in Africa who do not have a nuclear industry.
The optimal replacement of aging base-load power generation assets, especially in South Africa will also be assessed. This should be achievable through a combination of Clean Coal, Gas, and Nuclear with integrated Renewables.
What are you most looking forward to at African Utility Week?
Sharing ideas within like-minded people and agreeing on effective solutions toward reducing Africa’s abject energy poverty and getting this continent on the global prosperity map through sensible energy planning and industry development.
Anything you would like to add?
It’s time for us to start observing reality, making informed decisions and acting decisively and responsibly in energy. That alone will solicit the confidence and investment we desperately need in Africa’s energy sector. Water and energy should also play a more complimentary role toward a sustainable future.
Africa is starting to go through a positive transformation process. Let’s make sure our energy infrastructures compliment this and don’t again impede our growth.