Thought Leadership

Busisiwe Mavuso | Independent body needed to produce IRP with energy department unable to do it every two years

27/01/2023 | By Busiswe Mavuso

The one “new” item that came from the National Energy Crisis Committee (Necom) briefing at the weekend is that a new integrated resource plan (IRP) will be issued in March. The rest of Necom’s report was an update on the measures already implemented and it does reflect that there is a huge amount of work going on to try to improve things – even though progress is slow.

But with about 12,000MW due to come on stream over the next two years or so, there is light at the end of the tunnel although timeframes remain obscure. Necom says private-sector embedded generation projects with total capacity of 9,000MW are being developed, along with 2,800MW that have made it through bid windows 5 and 6, and 300MW imported from neighbouring countries.

A risk to the scenario presented by Necom is an increase in economic sabotage resulting in more units needing to be shut for repairs. Those profiting from Eskom’s troubles will not throttle back on their efforts to prolong them. What is encouraging is that Necom stated that a special meeting of the National Security Council will be convened in the next week on efforts to stop criminal syndicates and sabotage at power stations.

It also said the legislation to establish an independent transmission and system operator and a competitive electricity market had been finalised and would be submitted to cabinet this month, addressing another long overdue policy – the splitting of Eskom into three companies: generation, transmission and distribution.

The announcement of the updated IRP is important, with the last version having been promulgated in 2019 (IRP19). The IRP is meant to be an assessment of future electric needs and a plan to meet that demand. The IRP19 states that it needs to be based on least-cost electricity supply and demand balance, taking into account security of supply and the environment, with a focus on minimising negative emissions and water usage.

As with everything related to addressing the energy crisis, the updated version is long overdue. Business pushed hard in Nedlac talks with government and other social partners to update the IRP every two years but the current approach to review is extremely complex and leads to a long process. This has negative consequences, such as the validity of the assumptions expiring before the IRP is even finalised – as happened with the IRP19.

Before the IRP19, the previous version was issued way back in 2010 and it stated that it should be a “living plan” that at the very least should be revised by the energy department every two years. A paper by law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr points out that this was never done which “resulted in an energy mix that failed to adequately meet the constantly changing supply and demand scenarios in South Africa, nor did it reflect global technological advancements in the efficient and responsible generation of energy”.

Necom gave little detail on the new IRP, saying only that it was being reviewed with a completion target of March 2023 “to update assumptions regarding energy availability and technological changes”, noting also that it would reflect the need “for additional generation capacity and our climate commitments”.

We assume that it will be a draft version that will still go through the due process of consultation. Transparency throughout the IRP process is important. It’s in the interests of everyone, not only investors so that they can plan with confidence, but also for the population to know what’s going on. Regular updates are needed on each step.

At Nedlac, business also proposed moving the responsibility of drafting the IRP out of the energy department precisely because it is such a complex process and the department is unable to perform this function every two years. We believe the technology and economic analyses as well as the scenario modelling should be conducted by an independent expert body with the necessary capacity. It would incorporate policy input from government as well as motivations from other parties to establish a least-cost base case, with value-for-money propositions outlined for any scenario that deviates from the base case. And it would be open to public scrutiny and comment before being presented to Cabinet.

Necom was unable to announce any sudden breakthrough to end loadshedding because, bluntly, there is none, but the briefing was important both for business planning and confidence and for the people suffering so severely with the power cuts. We encourage Necom to update the public more regularly.

Despite the lack of any major breakthrough announced by Necom, promises of the end of loadshedding are coming thick and fast with elections looming next year. Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana told the World Economic Forum in Davos that it would take 12 to 18 months while energy minister Gwede Mantashe puts it at an incredible six to 12 months “if we pay attention to it”.

They should be more measured in their comments, given the outcomes of past promises.

*Busisiwe Mavuso (@BusiMavuso2) is the CEO of BLSAThis article first appeared in News24 Business.