The campaign for solar and wind seems to be driven by the powerful renewable energy companies and green ideology – and our politicians, ignorant about all things scientific and technical, just follow the latest fashion.

South Africa’s electricity supply is crippled by Eskom and menaced by the disastrous IRP2018. This is the Integrated Resources Plan 2018, the Department of Energy’s plan for energy sources for our electricity until the year 2030. It is a mad plan that will result in soaring electricity costs and increasing electricity failures.

Eskom, which used to produce the world’s cheapest electricity very reliably, has been wrecked by the African National Congress with corruption, incompetence, racial ideology and BEE procurement – especially coal procurement, where cheap, consistent coal delivered short distances by conveyor belt has been replaced with expensive, inconsistent coal delivered long distances by trucks. Eskom’s badly maintained coal stations are failing, and it has lost control of its debt.

The best future energy sources are nuclear and properly managed coal, with pollution control. The worst are solar and wind, which are good for off-grid applications but useless for the grid, as has been shown all around the world, including Germany, Denmark, Britain and Australia. They are very dilute forms of energy and so require gigantic machines to gather them: enormous wind turbines and colossal solar arrays using at least ten times more materials than nuclear per kWh (kilowatt-hour, a unit of energy).

Far worse is their intermittency and unreliability. In South Africa, wind has a load factor of 35% (meaning that wind turbines produce on average 35% of their rated capacity) and solar 26%. The Sun is guaranteed not to shine at the time of peak demand, 19h00 on winter weekdays. The wind is wildly unpredictable and a week ahead cannot be guaranteed to blow any time. This means that the value of a kWh of electricity from wind or solar has much less value than a kWh of nuclear or coal – if indeed it has any value at all. The central fallacy of renewable energy is to assume it has the same value as nuclear or coal. This is why predictions of cheap electricity from wind and solar have proved so spectacularly wrong.

IRP2018, influenced by the CSIR, gives as the ‘least cost’ option of a mixture of solar and wind backed by imported gas. In fact, this is not only the ‘highest cost’ option by far but a recipe for calamity. It was tried in South Australia, where cheap, reliable coal-fired electricity was replaced by wind, with some solar, backed with gas, which Australia, unlike us, has in abundance. The result was soaring electricity prices and two total state blackouts. At one point in July 2016, the price reached R140 per kWh – 150 times higher than Eskom’s average selling price

Panicking, South Australia then bought the world’s biggest battery from Elon Musk. It proved an expensive failure. It could only store enough energy to provide the grid for four minutes but did not have the power to do even that.

The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) forces Eskom to buy electricity from private solar and wind companies. (Renewable electricity depends entirely on coercion. No system operator would choose to use it.) It has been running since 2015 and has been a disaster. I have got the production curves of this renewably electricity. They are terrible. In its last annual report, Eskom said it had to pay 207 cents/kWh for renewable electricity. This compares with its selling price of about 82 cents/kWh. But it’s far worse than this.

That 207 cents/kWh is the price Eskom must pay. The cost to Eskom is much higher. To incorporate the unreliable renewable electricity into the grid while preserving frequency and voltage, Eskom must incur huge system costs. These costs include back-up generators, spinning reserve (generators having to run below optimum power), under-utilised capital, extra transmission, and generators wasting fuel and suffering wear and tear by having to ramp up and down to match the renewables. The system costs are by far the most important costs of renewable energy. They are ignored by the IRP and the CSIR.

Germany’s mad energiewende is phasing out cheap, safe, reliable nuclear and replacing it with expensive wind and solar. The result is soaring electricity costs and electrical instability. Denmark, with the world’s highest fraction of wind electricity, has just about the most expensive electricity in Europe. As soon as Australia began replacing its cheap reliable coal-fired electricity with wind and solar, prices began rising steeply. On 9 August 2019, large parts of England and Wales suffered blackouts caused by the failure of a wind farm and a gas station.

The campaign for solar and wind seems to be driven by the powerful renewable energy companies and green ideology. The greens long to see our lovely countryside dominated by tens of thousands of gigantic wind turbines and massive solar arrays all linked together in a vast, highly centralised power system.

The politicians, ignorant about all things scientific and technical, just follow the latest fashion. Very soon our parliamentarians will decide upon IRP2018.

Better get your candles ready.

Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the IRR.

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Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.