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Promulgated as a ‘living plan’, South Africa’s IRP document is in urgent need of fresh thinking.

Regulation and policy are methodical and always years behind technology and business advancements. This is an acceptable state as there is little room for risk taking when governing comes into practice.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Author: ESI Africa editor, Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter 2018/08/22 – subscribe today

However, lagging behind set timeframes is not conducive to good practice and puts much at stake. An example is South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), published in 2010 with the intention of being updated every two years to keep pace with changes in electricity demand, costs and technologies.

Since its initial publication, the document has languished for various political reasons for almost a decade and the country’s long-term energy plan stalled.

A welcomed announcement reached my desk yesterday: the minister of energy claims that the reviewed IRP will be released on Friday this week for public comment – albeit only for a short period of time.

IRP expectations run high

What can we expect from the document? It is likely to clarify the future of coal, nuclear power, renewable energy, and the incorporation of the 3Ds – decentralisation, decarbonisation and digitalisation. All of which are important for the national utility, Eskom, to plot out its strategic plan that is due at the end of September.

The challenge now is that the IRP will need to be forward-thinking as technology advancements in the energy sector are challenging the current landscape at an unfettered rate.

The late Kofi Annan, who sadly passed last weekend, believed that Africa’s energy future needed to be reimagined and he saw it as a future powered by renewable energy, mini-grids and increasingly decentralised power systems. In 2017 he said that this reimagined future would ultimately “lead to the emergence of more flexible, hybrid national energy systems that link grids to off-grid generation.”

Having an IRP based solidly on a 2018, or even 2020, version of the market will be detrimental to the utility landscape for years to come.

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