12 October 2010: South African energy plan – the lesser of two evils

The South African government has published an energy plan which proposes a decline in the use of coal and six new nuclear power stations. It also proposes that there should be work on CCS and an expansion of renewables, which have yet to take off in South Africa.

Most South Africans now have access to electricity – one of the great achievements of the ANC. This, together with economic development, means that there is fast-rising demand. In 2008, there was a series of serious power cuts, costing the country billions of dollars in lost output. So many new sources of electricity are needed.

The government’s plan proposes an increase of renewable electricity from less that 2% in 2007 to 24% in 2030 (8% large hydro, 16% other renewables). Nuclear would increase from about 6% today to 14%, and coal reduce from almost 94% to 48%. (see allAfrica.com: South Africa: Bold Bid to Double SA’s Use of Nuclear).

This is only a plan and has to be subject to public consultation, but is at least pointing in the right direction. Nuclear power is not ideal and not cheap, but is better than coal without CCS, and quite possibly cheaper than coal with CCS.. Renewables are much more desirable and South Africa is not short of sun or wind, but renewables other than firewood make no significant contribution at present, so other bridge technologies are needed (see South Africa – climate and energy statistics).

South Africa has no energy security reason to move away from fossil fuels – it is not short of coal – so the government should be commended for exploring alternatives.

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