Author Archives: Peter

Analysis: South Africa is stuck in a failing second industrial revolution – Let’s move beyond it

Daily Maverick, dirk de Vos, 24 May, 2017

Last week, another busy news week in South Africa, saw two significant events. The one was the announcement by General Motors (GM) that after 90 years, it was pulling out of South Africa. The other was the presentation by the new Minister of Energy of her department’s budget speech. Both events elicited strong debate. GM’s decision has been variously ascribed to South Africa’s poor governance and the country’s newly acquired “junk credit status”. The Minister of Energy’s speech confirmed a long-standing commitment to the development of the oil sector, renewed an effort to get a gas economy going and to get nuclear procurement back on track. Renewable energy procurement, the one outstanding success of her department, gets to be moved under the very poorly performing Central Energy Fund and the whole programme gets to be reviewed. Both events highlight the continual failure of South Africa’s industrial policy and a singular failure of even imagining anything better. By DIRK DE VOS.

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The South African government hasn’t given up the fight for nuclear

Hartmut Winkler, Professor of Physics, University of Johannesburg, in The Conversation, 17 May, 2017.

Nuclear energy in South Africa is a highly contested issue; so much so that a court recently ruled against the government’s plans to issue a contract for the construction of eight new nuclear power stations.

The ruling appeared to have delivered a significant blow to President Jacob Zuma, and those who support him, who had set their sights on immediate nuclear expansion. The court’s decision was met with jubilation by those opposing the nuclear plan.

The expectation was that the government would appeal the decision. It didn’t, but this shouldn’t be read as a shift in its thinking.

Minister of Energy Nkhensani Kubayi made it clear after the court ruling that, while there would be no appeal, the government remained fully committed to nuclear expansion, and was planning to initiate a new process without delay.

This signals a realisation by government that an appeal would have little chance of success, and that a lengthy court process would tie up the parties in legal cases for months or even years. This would delay a nuclear build even further.

The minister has made it clear that the government is not giving up on its push for the controversial nuclear plan. But it has realised the process must start from scratch. This is the clearest indication yet that Zuma intends launching the nuclear build before his term of office ends in 2019.

Adding to fears that the government isn’t giving up the fight was the surprise reinstatement of Brian Molefe as CEO of the country’s power utility Eskom. Molefe left the job under a cloud six months ago. His reappointment led to immediate and widespread public outrage. Many have interpreted his return as beefing up the quest for nuclear.

Molefe’s return, however, isn’t as critical to the nuclear project as imagined, as Eskom has maintained his pro-nuclear stance in his absence.

What’s more important is that it’s clear that contestation around the future of South Africa’s energy sector will continue unabated. This despite the president having been severely weakened in recent months, and with it the power of the pro-nuclear lobby supported by his faction.

And here is the original in The Conversation

Eskom funding may be muffling dissenting voices on nuclear

EE Publishers, Micah Reddy, amaBhungane, 28 April, 2017

The lure of millions in Eskom funding appears to have muzzled two research institutions previously highly critical of the state-owned utility’s plans to procure a fleet of nuclear power stations.

In the case of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) amaBhungane understands that the CSIR’s Energy Centre has been effectively gagged since a secrecy-shrouded meeting in March this year between acting Eskom CEO Matshela Koko and his counterpart at the CSIR, Dr. Thulani Dlamini.

In the other case, the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) at Stellenbosch University withdrew comments it had submitted for publication that were highly critical of Eskom’s nuclear plans.

In an email seen by amaBhungane, CRSES director Wikus van Niekerk said: “We receive significant funding from Eskom, some from a programme where Matshela is personally involved in, and I need to be careful how I react in public not to put this at risk.”

Eskom, the CSIR and CRSES have all denied that Eskom has in any way tried to rein in independent research or debate on nuclear or renewable energy options.

Case 1: CSIR Energy Centre

Several industry insiders, who asked not to be named, raised the alarm after the CSIR Energy Centre’s head, Dr. Tobias Bischof-Niemz, suddenly pulled out of an event on South Africa’s future energy supply in early April.

They told amaBhungane that a strong rumour had emerged that at Koko’s March meeting with the CSIR chief executive, Eskom had pledged a significant sum – R100-million was mentioned – for CSIR research on technology related to nuclear energy. AmaBhungane was unable to independently verify the claim.

While there is no evidence of any untoward quid-pro-quo, the same sources noted that the CSIR Energy Centre has withdrawn from other public engagements on renewable energy and South Africa’s future energy mix.

Adding to suspicions is the reluctance of both Eskom and the CSIR to disclose any detail of the meeting between Koko and Dr Dlamini.

Both institutions declined to answer questions about who attended the meeting, what was discussed and whether Koko offered the CSIR additional funding, as rumoured.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe told amaBhungane the two institutions have had a long-running partnership: “CSIR and Eskom continue to enjoy a strong relationship in spite of occasional, but understandable, disagreements. Interim Group Chief Executive, Mr. Matshela Koko, meets with our partners on a continuous basis and, by their nature, these meetings are confidential.”

Phasiwe said Eskom had R30,8-million worth of “multi-year collaborative projects” underway with CSIR and another R17,5-million worth were “actively under consideration”.

The CSIR insisted the organisation “did NOT receive any payments from Eskom in order to stop any research that we are conducting,” but ignored questions about Bischof-Niemz’s non-attendance at the April event where he was scheduled to give a presentation on renewable energy.

Up to now the CSIR Energy Centre has been vocal about its research on South Africa’s optimal energy mix, which suggested that the price of renewables had dropped to the point where government’s plan to procure 9,600 MW of nuclear power did not make financial sense.

By contrast, the CSIR’s recent formal response to the Department of Energy’s latest draft energy policy – the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) – was quietly placed on the CSIR website in early April without publicity or further commentary.

Asked about this, CSIR spokesperson Tendani Tsedu said: “The organisation will not comment any further on the submission made to the DoE since the CSIR submission is already public information as indicated above. This will also allow the DoE to conclude its internal processes towards the finalisation of the IRP.”

Last year the CSIR Energy Centre began publishing the findings of its studies into South Africa’s future energy scenarios.

The groundbreaking research showed a strong preference for renewable energy and posed a major challenge to the case for nuclear, of which Eskom has been a strong proponent.

The results of the research were widely cited and the CSIR Energy Centre’s staff presented their findings at conferences, seminars and business and technical briefings. They also did not shy away from voicing critical opinions on energy matters in the media.

But sources close to the CSIR Energy Centre told amaBhungane that the Centre’s staff appear to have been muzzled and are now avoiding public engagements on their renewables and IRP-related research.

According to Dudley Baylis, energy director of Bridge Capital – one of the organisations involved in the April event where Bischof-Niemz was due to speak – the CSIR Energy Centre informed the organisers at the last minute that they were “unable to share their energy scenario work”.

Other sources say that the CSIR Energy Centre has recently had to cancel similar events and media interviews related to energy systems, and that Bischof-Niemz is subject to a virtual gagging order by CSIR’s management.

Approached for comment, Bischof-Niemz referred amaBhungane to the CSIR’s communications manager.

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Nersa may probe whether Eskom’s refusal to sign renewables PPAs contravened licence

Engineering NEws, 11 May, 2017

he electricity subcommittee of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) will recommend that the Energy Regulator institute a formal investigation into a complaint that Eskom was flouting the conditions of its licence by refusing to conclude power purchase agreements (PPAs) for 37 renewable-energyprojects procured by the Department of Energy.

Spokesperson Charles Hlebela said the next meeting of the Energy Regulator would take place on May 25, and confirmed that, at its meeting on May 3, Nersa’s electricity subcommittee had endorsed the probe, following a preliminary investigation. Should it proceed, the subcommittee wants Mbulelo Ncetezo, the regulator member responsible for electricity, to chair the probe.

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Warning issued that nuclear ruling may pose risk to legality of IPP programmes

Engineering News, 11 May, 2017

The recent nuclear ruling, which set aside the Ministerial determinations designed to facilitate the procurement of nuclear power stations, may also carry risks for the legality of the various independent power producer (IPP) procurement programmes, which are proceeding on the basis of determinations that were likewise not subjected to public consultations.

This view is expressed in a risk assessment drafted by Craig Morkel for discussion by the South African Independent Power Producer Procurement Association (SAIPPA). Morkel, who is projects director at iKapa Energy, wrote the piece in his personal capacity.

… “The nuclear ruling made it clear that Nersa cannot simply rubberstamp a determination written by the Minister and is required to, independently, apply its mind before offering its concurrence. It also indicated that such consultations need not be exhaustive,” Morkel said in an interview with Engineering News Online.

He also argued that the judgment provided a genuine opportunity for introspection and review so that future processes were not only fully in line with the Constitution, but also far more transparent and accessible to all stakeholders, not only large industry participants.

“We can’t allow the IPP baby to be thrown out with the nuclear bathwater,” Morkel quipped. …

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