Two of the country's energy experts have different views on what the energy mix should look like, with one suggesting it is time to ditch coal.
The return of load shedding has revived the debate around South Africa’s energy crisis, with strong, differing expert views on the changes required to the energy mix if we hope to solve the country’s rolling power woes.
Power utility Eskom has refused to comment on energy expert Chris Yelland saying there were easy solutions to alleviate load shedding, while suggesting that the entire country was being held at ransom by the few powerful black economic empowerment (BEE) coal mining magnates who are heavily invested in the coal value chain.
In a television interview, Yelland noted that SA was trapped in the ideological past and powerful vested interests in coal power generation, with many new black-owned companies having bought into coal assets that were being offloaded due to the dwindling future of coal.
Yelland has said that coal mining has been one of the greatest successes of black economic empowerment in SA, with new black companies mortgaging their entire futures on coal-fired power generation continuing.
“The coal mining interests are very powerful and very strong. There is an entire industry of trucking coal from the vast range of coal mines to power stations … These are very powerful, vested interests that are determined, for example, to retain that transportation industry even when there are cheaper ways of doing things. They have bought into the status quo and they really resist change of a new disruptive future,” he told eNCA.
Yelland said in turn, this held SA back from generating more reliable power for less through renewable energy like wind and solar and flexible generation, including gas-to-power, battery energy storage, as well as pumped water storage, to end load shedding.
His fellow energy expert Ted Blom, however, disagreed and charged that wind and solar power had no future in SA.
And while he has a completely different view of the country’s energy mix needs, he does think coal is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
“It is overcast now, how do you generate solar power? You also need batteries for that, and there is no utility size battery the world over. In areas like Cape Town, there is regular wind because it is along the coast. Inland, it is a different story,” Blom said.
He says during a 24-hour, power-generating cycle, solar power gives you a mere 20% or four hours of power, and wind only 15% or about three hours of power. Wind energy is also dependent on the sun and other elements, and while areas like Cape Town have stronger winds, this did not apply inland.
Blom believes coal and nuclear are the only truly viable options.
He suggests following the Russian example and building small-scale nuclear plants in individual towns (200MW for larger towns and between 10-30 MW for smaller towns).
This would cost much less than the current large scale power plant projects, and these would last forever, while needed little maintenance. These plants are generally refuelled once in 12 years.