Category Archives: Policy & Planning

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How to remove the Eskom albatross from around SA’s neck

Business Day, 22 JANUARY 2018 – 07:01 TOBIAS BISCHOF-NIEMZ AND JOHAN VAN DEN BERG

Eskom’s current debt is R350bn; it needs to raise an additional R150bn or so over the next three to four years. This is almost certainly impossible, even with a government guarantee, say the writers. Picture: Getty Images

There is a simple way to stabilise electricity prices, cast off Eskom’s crippling debt, boost SA’s credit rating and liquidity, kick-start our economy and yet maintain public sector ownership of critical assets in the electricity sector, all while becoming profoundly green.

It requires a shift of perspective, and so we have developed a metaphor: imagine the country as a modern cargo ship in the middle of the Atlantic. It is driven by both sails (wind) and diesel engines. The engines have broken down and there is no wind — the ship is literally in the doldrums.

A mayday message has been sent and a tugboat has arrived, but has run out of fuel. The ship is leaking and sinking deeper in the water. There is inertia: the tugboat cannot pull.

Time passes, the ship sinks deeper. What to do? The situation seems intractable and a pessimistic mood is becoming despair. It seems a matter of time before the ship sinks and the tugboat saves itself by severing the cable.

The cargo could gradually be thrown overboard, but this would only postpone the inevitable.

Then, magically, someone points out that in addition to gold and diamonds, much of the cargo consists of diesel. If the diesel is transferred to the tug, the tug could pull, the ship would get lighter, its speed would gradually increase, the doldrums would pass, the sails would kick in, the ship would safely reach harbour with everything and everyone intact — bar the diesel.

If we regard Eskom generation (specifically its coal power stations) as an eternal asset like gold or diamonds that must be guarded in perpetuity, the ship (the South African economy) will sink.

If, however, we see it as something with a limited lifetime that must be best used before ceasing to exist (like diesel), all will be well.

Marooned ship

Eskom’s current debt is R350bn and it needs to raise perhaps another R150bn over the next three to four years. This is almost certainly impossible, even with a government guarantee. Eskom cannot stay afloat without a gargantuan government bail-out.

The low electricity price increase, announced by watchdog Nersa in December, has mostly passed the responsibility for funding Eskom from the electricity rate payer over to the taxpayer and the fiscus.

It has been widely reported that Eskom will run out of cash by end of February. Just last week Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said Treasury did not have the funds to bail Eskom out.

Treasury might break it down into periodic components, fund the most immediate need for some months and hope the problem goes away, but the electricity price is well below what Eskom requires for sustainability, and the question will return again and again.

The build programme for Medupi and Kusile may have to be suspended. We will come to the inevitable choice between a slow submerging and a very unpalatable turn to the International Monetary Fund or World Bank. These institutions would likely impose conditions on lending that would conflict fundamentally with government policy and South African opinions on sovereignty. It would be the impasse of the ship, slowly sinking with no solution in sight.

Fuel for safety and prosperity

The equivalent of the diesel in the hold is the Eskom generation fleet, consisting of 15 coal-fired power stations. These all have limited lifetimes and were built to serve the country and economy before being retired and replaced. Scheduled decommissioning dates start soon and end in 2050 or later.

Given that these assets were meant to be extinguished over time for the common good, we can choose to do so in the most beneficial manner. This would be to remove them from the Eskom fold and to dispose of them to public or private entities as described below.

How it would work

1. The existing power stations would be grouped into three categories:

• Category 0: The oldest, which have recently been calculated to be more expensive to keep than to shut them down immediately: Camden, Hendrina, Komati, Grootvlei and Arnot

• Category 1: All others but Medupi and Kusile: Kriel, Matla, Duvha, Tutuka, Lethabo, Matimba, Kendal, Majuba

• Category 2: Medupi and Kusile

2. Power stations of category 0 would remain with Eskom for controlled immediate decommissioning over the next five years (in sync with Medupi and Kusile coming fully online).

Power stations of categories 1 and 2 would be sold in a staggered manner, one by one, over the next five years in competitive auctions.

3. What is up for sale in these auctions is the power station itself, all its power station-specific obligations (staff contracts, coal-supply contracts, supplier contracts, environmental obligations, etcetera) lumped with a power purchase agreement at a predefined, power station-specific tariff.

4. The power purchase agreement is a contract that entitles the new power station owner to supply a specific amount of electricity annually, an electricity budget, over the power station’s lifetime to the Single Buyer Office (hosted in Eskom’s Transmission System Operator division) at the predefined tariff. The amount of electricity will equate to the expected output at normal system-friendly operations.

5. There will be payment for electricity delivered (and only for electricity delivered) and a penalty for not being available (a “capacity nonavailability penalty”). The new owner of the power station will be fully responsible for maintaining and operating the power station, while the Eskom System Operator, in its national control centre, would be responsible for the day-to-day system-optimal dispatch of the power stations within the technical restrictions and the agreed annual electricity budget, broken down into monthly sub-budgets.

6. The agreed electricity budget would constitute both an entitlement and an obligation. The new power station owner would be entitled to have at least the agreed electricity budget bought or paid for (ie, a “take-or-pay contract”), making the power purchase agreement “bankable” — that is, financeable. On the other hand, the new power station owner would be obliged to produce at least that agreed amount of electricity per year if requested by the System Operator, or face penalties.

7. The power station-specific power purchase agreement tariff would be high enough to cover all coal, employee and operational costs and leave a margin. The present value of that margin over the lifetime of the power station, minus the present value of the expected rehabilitation cost, is the amount of money that can be raised through the auction.

8. From the revenue of electricity sales, the new owner must set aside ring-fenced, insolvency-safeguarded funds for closure and rehabilitation of the power station at the end of its lifetime (and the synchronised end of the power purchase agreement lifetime). The cost of rehabilitation is estimated at a substantial R10m per megawatt, which would be available at the time of closure as a fund to pay for the rehabilitation process. For a typical power station that is between R30bn and R40bn.

9. The duration of each power purchase agreement would be linked to the planned decommissioning date, but would be capped at 20 years. The reason for the cap is that additional years at the tail-end of the power purchase agreement contribute little to the achievable sales price, while power purchase agreements of longer than 20 years would lock the country in unnecessarily long, in light of the fact that in 20 years in all likelihood new solar photovoltaic and wind power, plus batteries, will be significantly cheaper than existing coal-fired power stations.

10. In terms of the bid conditions, staff and existing coal contracts would be maintained as before and would be transferred to the buyers. The purchase sum would be payable upfront in a lump sum. Those prospective buyers able to operate most efficiently would be able to bid highest and would win. That means whoever offers the highest lump-sum price for the power station with all its obligations plus the power purchase agreement would be the new owner.

11. One power station of category 1 could be sold first as a trial. After adjustments to the bid rules for lessons learnt, the remaining power stations could then be auctioned one at a time, in the ascending order of their remaining lifetime. No entity may own more than 20% of the overall electricity budget of roughly 200TWh a year, to prevent anticompetitive behaviour.

12. Category 2, Medupi and Kusile, would be sold in a package with higher tariffs, and resulting higher margins, to take into account the fact that enough capital must be raised through the sale to be able to pay back the associated loans on Eskom’s side. They would also be sold last, after full commissioning by Eskom. It is assumed that Eskom would finalise only units 1-4 of Kusile and scrap units 5 and 6, as it has recently been shown it will be cheaper not to complete than to finish them.

13. Eskom continues to own and operate the pumped storage and peaking plants plus the nuclear power station Koeberg, and otherwise to exist as before, being primarily responsible for planning, operating, expanding and balancing the grid.

14. As old power stations are decommissioned by their new owners at the end of the respective power station and power purchase agreement lifetime, new power plants are procured (also on long-term power purchase agreements) that are the lowest cost addition to the electricity at the time while keeping the security of supply at the accepted level. Based on present market conditions and also trends, this overwhelmingly would be solar PV and wind power, mixed with flexible power generators, demand-response and (in future) battery storage.

Cash injection for SA

The proceeds of the auctions would be a function of where the electricity tariff in the power purchase agreements is pegged. The lower the price, the lower the proceeds. The higher the predefined power purchase agreement tariff, the higher the proceeds from the auction. We have chosen to use moderate, but still cost-reflective, rather than subsidised electricity tariffs. The proposed tariffs per power station are sufficient to cover all operational expenses and would leave a margin whose present value over the lifetime, minus the present value of the funds set aside for rehabilitation, determines the achievable sales price.

In category 1 this margin is pegged at 20c/kWh, leading to power purchase agreement tariffs of between 54c/kWh and 72c/kWh, the variance resulting from the different coal costs per power station.

In category 2, Medupi and Kusile, the proposed contribution margin is 60c/kWh, to be able to achieve a sales price sufficient to repay the associated loans on Eskom side. At such margins and tariffs, the country could raise about R450bn from the series of auctions. This would extinguish all Eskom debt and leave some valuable cash to upgrade the grid and recapitalise the new Eskom.

Price and grid stability

A major benefit would be very stable, affordable and predictable electricity prices.

SA has long been beholden to Eskom’s inefficiency and poor governance. These have had to be paid for by the rate payer or taxpayer. It is a bit like trusting someone with a credit card and hoping they will be responsible: if the trust proves to have been misplaced, the only option is to grimace and pay. This pattern has recurred.

With a sold-off Eskom coal fleet, inefficiencies would lead to losses for new owners but not for the public.

The average electricity price is overwhelmingly driven by the cost of Eskom’s coal fleet. This is about 55c/kWh today. The grid (Eskom transmission and Eskom distribution), customer service, metering, billing and all overheads adds roughly another 30c/kWh, for a total of about 85c/kWh. Medupi and Kusile are costing significantly more than 100c/kWh. As they are completed, the average tariff will increase.

New solar photovoltaic and wind power stations cost only about 60c/kWh to 65c/kWh. If we embark on a least-cost expansion path, replacing old coal predominantly with solar PV and wind, the long-term electricity tariff in SA will stabilise at about 100c/kWh: 70c/kWh for generation and 30c/kWh for the grid and all other costs.

Our grid can easily accept an aggressive roll-out of variable renewable energy until at least 2030, given the current coal capacity installed. Between 2025 and 2050, as this winds down, we’d have to assess the state of international progress on electricity storage and dynamic grid management already developing internationally in grids dominated by variable renewable energy. If required, the country can then invest in storage capacity and/or generation capacity that fits well with renewables, like gas or regional hydro.

Government control of key economic assets

It is axiomatic in the prevailing policy discourse that the government should retain ownership or control over key economic assets, of which electricity is one. The present proposal leaves space for this to occur, in two ways:

• Control over the grid practically constitutes control over the electricity industry. It is a natural monopoly and Eskom would retain that control. The government can control where the grid goes, who it serves, who supplies electricity into it, how it is maintained and how it is built to serve broader objectives like the National Development Plan. The electrons travelling on the grid are similar to the cars travelling on the national road network. It isn’t necessary to own every car in order to control transport in the country. Electricity can be procured from independent power producers while retaining control over the electricity system in the country. This has been proven in many countries.

• Beyond this, there is every possibility that public sector entities like the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) could invest in the auctioned Eskom power stations either through equity or debt or a mix of both, and pay a specialised service provider to operate them on its behalf. They would in fact be exchanging a very open-ended and precarious Eskom bond for an equity investment in a long-term infrastructure asset with a very predictable, long-term return — a much better position to be in. While no entity may own more than 20% of the fleet, to ensure fair play, there are different public sector pension funds that might be interested, while it might also be possible to finance equity for the trade unions.

Effects

Taking this route, Eskom generation would cease to be an unbearable drag on the economy. Its sale would stabilise electricity prices, greatly improve liquidity in the country, and bolster our credit rating and leverage investment through a better economic outlook and certainty about the future electricity price. The energy-intensive mining and beneficiation sectors would benefit particularly. Treasury would be rid of a R350bn albatross around its neck and would be left with far lighter offtake guarantee for the electricity delivered to the grid operator (as it would be performance-based — “no electricity, no payment”).

The PIC could greatly lower the risk profile of its South African investments. Mismanagement of any of the coal power stations would lead to lower profits for the owner but would not affect the electricity price. The scope for corruption would have been curbed significantly.

Eskom would be able to concentrate on what it can do very well: design, build and maintain the grid, and operate the power system as a whole. That capability of Eskom is a national asset and could be leveraged to help electrify the continent. Eskom could become the “super grid company” of Africa and one of the largest in the world.

There is precedent for this: in China, grid and generation have been separated since 2002. The former State Power Corporation of China was divided into one grid company, responsible for building, maintaining and operating the grid, and several generation companies. The purpose was to create competition between the generators. The State Grid Corporation of China today is by far the largest utility in the world with almost 1-million employees, and now provides grid services to multiple countries outside China on concession.

In this proposal, rehabilitation of retiring stations would be fully funded and open to scrutiny. As new power came online, SA would gradually become (again) a country with some of the lowest electricity prices in the world, due to superior wind and solar resources, and would converge on a zero-carbon electricity sector.

At a macro level, government would retain control of the electricity sector, jobs would be safeguarded and we would be able to turn our attention to other challenges the country faces in its journey to greater prosperity and equality.

• The authors were appointed to the inaugural Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy. Dr Bischof-Niemz was the founding head of the Energy Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and previously worked for Eskom on the Integrated Resource Plan. He is now head of global business development at Enertrag. Van den Berg is an advocate and former CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association who is now MD of Skrander.

New ‘power-to-X’ prospects may arise as renewables costs continue to fall

Engineering News, 15 January, 2018.

The outlook for solar and wind electricity costs to 2020 “presages historically low costs for new renewable electricity”, which could create new economic and industrialopportunities, a new International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) report argues.

Released in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, this weekend, the report states that, by 2020, all existing renewable generation technologies will fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range, with most, notably onshore wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies, at the lower end, or undercutting fossil fuels.

The global weighted average costs over the last 12 months for onshore wind and solar PV were $0.06/kWh (ZAR 0.756/kWh) and $0.10/kWh (ZAR 0.13/kWh)  respectively, with onshore wind routinely commissioned for $0.04/kWh (ZAR 0.50/kWh). The current cost spectrum for fossil fuel power generation, by contrast, ranges from $0.05/kWh to $0.17/kWh (ZAR 0.63 – 2.12/kWh).

(Ed. note: South Africa’s Bid Window 4 rates are: solar PV ZAR 0.62/kWh and wind ZAR0.79/kWh. See http://www.gsb.uct.ac.za/files/EberhardNaude_REIPPPPReview_2017_1_1.pdf)

“Based on the latest auction and project-level cost data, global average costs could decline to about $0.05/kWh (ZAR 0.63/kWh) for onshore wind and $0.06/kWh (ZAR 0.76/kWh) for solar PV,” the ‘Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017’ report states.

Eishkom and avoidance of intervention

Richard Worthington, Daily Maverick, 15 January, 2018.

There are many points of entry for addressing the dire situation within our “public enterprise” responsible for electricity supply, particularly within Eskom Generation and the self-serving cabal within this corporate behemoth – a league of unknown extent that I shall refer to as Eishkom.

The ongoing refusal by Eishkom to conclude power purchase agreements (PPAs) that government committed to with renewable energy power producers over two years ago – and thus obstruction of more than R55-billion of investment – is probably even more damaging to the economy (inter alia via investor confidence and credit ratings) than the arbitrage that has been exercised over coal procurement and driven up fuel costs. This merits urgent intervention by the state: an immediate illustration of an ability to cut through capture by vested interests and honour fiduciary commitments made by the state.

The commission of inquiry into State Capture just announced by the president looks unlikely to be a promising point of entry for timely and effective remedial action, particularly if the advice of the public protector is followed, as reported in Greg Nicolson’s article.

Is it not patently absurd to suggest that terms of reference for an inquiry should “ensure that no stone is left unturned … in order to avoid any further allegations of State Capture being lodged with the Office of the Public Protector,”?

Talk about scope creep. How about the possibility of allegations of improper influence being raised regarding the recent deal or agreement with Russia for financing exploration for natural gas in SA territory, with associated consideration of importing their gas? Should the terms of reference seek to avoid such allegations being lodged?

As for Zuma’s call to uncover “… all those who may have rendered our state or parts thereof vulnerable to control by forces other than the public…” – One might as well then combine it with the process of ANC introspection, and indeed a performance (and outcomes) review of all our politicians, as well as state bureaucracy, the financial sector…

The DA apparently wouldn’t mind this being a fishing expedition and doesn’t seem able to drive immediate remedial action, or to be solutions-oriented beyond advocating privatisation. Nersa has failed to insist that Eishkom publicly disclose all the information upon which this monopoly made its application for tariffs, despite requests by many stakeholders, and has yet to publish the reasons for approval of the increase that was granted (far less than requested) late in 2017.

The parliamentary inquiry by the Committee on Public Enterprises was looking rather encouraging in 2017, although a key witness in hearings appears to be targeted for constructive dismissal by Eishkom – Jessica Bezuidenthout reports Company Secretary Suzanne Daniels saying “ the case against her had been “concocted’ and that it may have been a “ruse” to get her out of the way.”

It seems doubtful the committee could force remedial action by the recalcitrant minister.

It is widely agreed that Eskom is on a path to bankruptcy (some say on the brink), primarily due to the management of the generation division, particularly the costs (incl. of delays) of building the two coal behemoths Medupi and Kusile. Coal procurement seems to have become a patronage playground, under the guise of black economic empowerment, but without seriously threatening monopoly capital (and some players off-loading risks in the process).

Various mainstream commentators and industry representatives are flagging the dangers of a utility financial death spiral as electricity sales remain below the 2007 level and costs of operating the existing generation fleet continue to escalate. Is anybody considering scenarios for Eishkom taking down the whole corporate entity, e.g. for Eskom to be put under business rescue, say if Treasury (and the PIC) does not provide another massive bailout?

As important as it is to uncover past wrongdoing, we need to prioritise damage control and solutions and beware of impediments to radical intervention, including judicial processes that may be used to generate legalistic procrastination. The viability of our public energy utility is surely more important and urgent to the credibility of the currently ruling party, not to mention the economy, than ensuring that the scope of any inquiry is exhaustive? …

… Could it be that business rescue is the most promising point of entry to tackle the Eishkom malaise? What structure or institutional arrangement could succeed where government’s secretive “War Room” on Eskom achieved only some co-operation on demand management? It would certainly seem that the potential source(s) of capital have the best prospect of forcing changes that cannot await the outcome of comprehensive inquiries.

Here is the full article

Auctions are having dramatic effects on renewable energy prices

IRENA, January, 2018.

At least 67 countries had used auctions for renewable energy contracts by mid-2016, up from less than 10 in 2005. This auctions report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) provides key updates on this crucial mechanism for price discovery and market development.

Average contract prices fell to USD 50 per megawatt-hour (MWh) for solar and USD 40/MWh for wind power in 2016, compared to USD 250/MWh and USD 80/MWh, respectively, in 2010. Chile, Mexico, Morocco, Peru and the United Arab Emirates achieved record price lows with solar and wind auctions in 2016. Along with falling technology costs, policy support and improved access to finance have helped drive accelerating renewable energy development.

Chapter 1 gives the highlights of renewable energy auctions held or announced in 2016.

Chapter 2 reviews the main trends and analyses the evolution of prices resulting from auctions.

Price determinants, analysed in Chapter 3, include:

  • access to finance and country-specific conditions;
  • investor confidence and a conducive environment;
  • other policies aimed at supporting renewable energy development; and
  • auction design elements.

Chapter 4 presents country case studies to show how the design of each auction has to be tailored to a specific context and objectives.

Chapter 5 analyses the use of auctions to promote less mature technologies, such as offshore wind and biomass, while also delivering socio-economic benefits.

Finally, Chapter 6 outlines key considerations in renewable energy auction design, including trade-offs between maximum cost-effectiveness and other objectives.

The report follows IRENA’s earlier studies:

Here is the full report: IRENA_Renewable_Energy_Auctions_2017

Why the hurry with nuclear power?

BusinessDay, Energy Research Centre, UCT, 12 December, 2017.

The economic benefits of a nuclear fleet are no better than a flexible build plan, even in a future where we assumed nuclear is cheap

12 DECEMBER 2017 – 06:29 TARA CAETANO, BRUNO MERVEN AND HARALD WINKLER

Energy Minister David Mahlobo reportedly wants to finalise quickly the latest iteration of our electricity plan in support of new nuclear power. The minister claims that “there’s no discussion about the need, the need is there” for nuclear power.

Yet research that we have undertaken at the Energy Research Centre supports neither a need for, nor benefits of, forcing a large nuclear fleet into our electricity system.

Modelling of all available electricity generation options continues to show that nuclear power is not the least-cost solution. Nor does the country have the ability to finance the investments required for a 9.6GW fleet of large reactors. SA currently faces an excess of capacity and will not need this power in the short to medium term.

The latest modelling shows nuclear only coming into the mix around 2040. This is a finding consistent with earlier work the centre undertook for the National Planning Commission in 2013. Current research together with economic modellers also suggests a wait-and-see approach. The rush to complete the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and increase the share of nuclear is suboptimal for the electricity system and for the South African economy. There is no urgency about the decision around nuclear.

When would we need nuclear power? Nuclear plants take 10 years to build and will run for decades after, but it is virtually impossible to predict demand half a century into the future. Electricity demand projections have consistently been higher than actual growth, when evaluated ex post. Smaller nuclear reactors could in future track demand more closely than those being considered for the fleet.

In the past few years, electricity demand has flattened and is even declining. The global financial crisis reduced economic demand, which is a key driver assumed in modelling electricity demand. The period of load-shedding that followed in SA further kept electricity demand low. So SA has time to carefully consider future investment needs as no new generation is needed before the late 2020s.

Does SA “need” nuclear when it is not the lowest-cost option for the country? Good policy should be informed by sound evidence. Here’s an explanation on how we cost nuclear power, in research terms.

Much of the public debate centres on “overnight capital costs”, which are the costs of construction, excluding inflation or interest. There are divergent figures on the “overnight costs” of nuclear, dependent on certain assumptions, technology choices and country of construction.

The IRP 2013 used a range of about $5,000/kW–$7,000/kW. This range was found to be consistent with literature for the types of plants SA would be considering, and was used in studies by the centre on nuclear power and bounding uncertainty, including those on costs. A more recent review by three research groups of overnight costs suggests that the upper range could be as high as $8,500/kW.

The “overnight cost” is not a very good basis for comparing the costs of electricity plant since it excludes other key components — fuel and operating costs, aggregate availability, lifetime, interest during construction, borrowing rates, system integration aspects and risk. Another measure of cost is the “levelised cost of energy”. This cost is expressed in cents per kWh, and takes into account the overnight costs and the other aspects listed above except for the system integration aspects. Risk is taken into account to a certain extent through the discount rate, but this does not fully account for the risk of over-build.

In SA, renewable energy prices have fallen rapidly, echoing global cost reduction trends. Actual average tariffs from solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind electricity generation decreased from R3.65/kWh and R1.51/kWh in 2011 respectively to R0.62/kWh in 2015, making it cheaper than electricity produced from a new-build coal-fired power plant (R1.03/kWh) as well as nuclear (R1.09/kWh), the latter figures being those published by the Department of Energy in 2016.

The measure of levelised costs can be useful for comparing the overall observed and expected energy cost from different technologies, but can be misleading when comparing technologies with very different characteristics. For example, non-dispatchable solar PV and wind do not provide the same value to the system as dispatchable generators. The actual value (and costs) to the energy system of any technology is a complex and dynamic combination of all prospective new and existing capacity and their overall ability to meet demand. Both demand and supply options change over time — over a day, week, month, year — as the structure of the overall power system evolves.

It is important to the operation of the system when supply and demand-side options produce and whether this is at the same time as demand. To fully understand the implications of the advances in energy technologies on future electricity generation in SA, a fully integrated energy systems assessment is required. An energy system model is also useful to compare different scenarios.

Our research has compared the economic effects of a nuclear fleet against a flexible, least-cost build plan. We found that the economic benefits of a nuclear fleet are no better than a flexible build plan, even in a future where we assumed nuclear is cheap. Given that the result depends on many inputs, the centre’s researchers further analysed many variants of these two scenarios and found that nuclear is not the least-cost option. A forced nuclear scenario results in electricity prices that are higher and this “would have negative impacts on growth, employment and welfare in SA”. In plain language, one has to cherry-pick a future in which nuclear power is affordable.

In a world where there is uncertainty about future demand, future technology costs and capabilities, future grids with distributed generation and storage, committing ourselves to a large investment far in advance is not prudent.

So nuclear power is not the most affordable option, by overnight costs, levelised costs or by running an energy system model. But there are factors other than cost to consider. SA would do well to invest in technologies that deliver what we really need, especially employment.

The localisation and respective job-creation potential of a nuclear fleet is low compared with other technologies, as most of the local jobs will be temporary construction jobs and a couple of thousand permanent jobs in operations and maintenance, depending on the number of nuclear plants being built. Pushing up the local content requirements for the nuclear programme is another way of increasing the cost to levels even unknown to the industry.

Over- and under-supply are both costly to the economy, and we have a poor track record in avoiding either. The “fleet” approach taken to nuclear in IRP 2010 makes the investment particularly large. A 9.6GW fleet has been estimated to cost between R322bn and R1.4-trillion. These estimates do not include cost overruns, which are common on mega-projects. Many studies do not include interest during construction, which due to long lead times of nuclear and depending on interest rates, can increase the capital cost of projects by 40%-50%.

The government is already committed to providing a R350bn debt guarantee to Eskom, and we have an unaffordable debt-to-GDP ratio (currently at 51.7%). Another R1.4-trillion in guarantees or sovereign debt would more than double our national debt, which is currently about R870bn. The Treasury is seeking to reduce debt to keep the interest paid on our national debt under control. Increasing that debt in the current economic climate seems unwise.

• Caetano, Merven and Winkler work at the University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre. They write in their personal capacities.

Here is the link to the article