The government has been touting large-scale, gas-fired power plants for some time as a long-term solution to our ageing coal-fired power stations and crippling rolling blackouts, but, like many ideas touted by those in charge, it is outdated.
A recently released study by Meridian Economics found that South Africa’s plan to build large-scale, gas-fired power plants has become outdated due to renewable technologies such as wind, solar and hydro becoming cheaper and mounting global pressure to curb their carbon emissions.
Three years ago, the government published a gas-to-energy plan for the country that envisioned as much as 3 gigawatts of electricity being generated from natural gas, which is not currently produced domestically on a large scale.
This 3-gigawatt figure could very well increase as the government ponders the use of gas as an emergency power supply to the grid. It is also seeking an investment partner to assist with the establishment of a state-owned gas trader, with steps already being taken to set up import terminals for the fuel.
Bloomberg reported that the cost of natural gas power generation and storage on a scale envisioned by the powers that be would cost 40% more than coal power generation and result in seven times more emissions than securing it from peaking plants that burn the fuel intermittently to complement renewable energy output, Meridian’s analysts wrote in a report published on Monday.
“There is no role for large-scale, gas-fired power generation in the South African power system for the foreseeable future,” researchers said.
Eskom generates about 80% of South Africa’s electricity from coal-fired plants that have been poorly maintained and are reaching the end of their lives. The state power utility’s inability to meet demand has resulted in rolling blackouts since 2008.
Richer, developed nations have pledged $8.5 billion in grants and loans to help the country migrate to cleaner forms of energy. South Africa is the world’s 13th biggest source of greenhouse gases, largely from coal mining and coal-fired power plants.
Using gas could potentially threaten the transition and expose exports to higher carbon-linked taxes, according to Meridian. “Such a decision would likely impact developed countries' appetite to provide financial support to assist South Africa with its just energy transition, putting concessional or conditional funding at risk,” it said.
Eskom’s CEO, André de Ruyter, has said between 3GW and 6GW of new generation capacity would be needed to stabilise the grid. Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has voiced support for both the increased use of gas and exploration to secure domestic sources of fuel.
Nationwide power cuts are headed for a record this year and may rise 10-fold by 2026 unless South Africa rapidly deploys a massive build-up of renewables, Meridian said in another study released last week.