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South Africa’s IRP planning loses its lustre

By Antonio Ruffini, Editor, ESI Africa

When South Africa launched its first integrated resource plan (IRP) in 2010 it was greeted with a good level of enthusiasm in many parts of the power sector; its successor in 2013 less so.

There are a number of reasons for this. Certain sectors are seen to be losers in the updated draft IRP of 2013, such as wind, which has had its allocations reduced in face of complaints from opponents of this technology, and more significantly the increasing price competitiveness of solar photovoltaic technology. Many of the power generation technology options have seen their scale reduced, including the potential nuclear build programme, based on projections of lower electricity demand over the 20 year IRP period. The pricing assumptions made by the IRP draft update for nuclear energy have been labelled as flawed.

Other reasons for a lack of enthusiasm include real concerns over the underestimation by the update of future electricity demand based on current usage figures and developed world trends towards private distributed power. There are fears this fails to take into account the shortage of power in sub-Saharan Africa and existing supressed demand in South Africa, as well as the desired future industrialisation of the country and region. The IRP update also focuses on a list of technology choices and generation options, but pays less attention to equally important transmission and distribution system requirements. Another major problem with the IRP process in general is that instead of being a modelling and planning tool it has become prescriptive and is being used to enforce state control, as had been feared and warned against, and the attempts to cover different scenarios fail to hide that.

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