Renewable energy is a disaster and will collapse SA’s electricity supply system
by Andrew Kenny
This article was first published in City Press on 12 April 2019
South Africa is lurching towards another electricity disaster to make the Eskom disaster even worse.
It comes from “renewable energy”, which here usually means solar and wind.
These are excellent for off-grid uses, such as solar water heating, wind pumps on farms, and small electricity supply for households.
But they are useless for grid electricity (electricity on national electricity networks, such as Eskom’s).
The sun never makes electricity when it is most needed – on winter evenings just after sunset.
With wind you never know when it will make electricity.
Both are staggeringly expensive and hopelessly unreliable.
South Africa has more than three years of data showing how bad solar and wind electricity is here.
This comes from REIPPPP – the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Program.
Under it Eskom is forced to buy extremely costly solar and wind power from independent power producers.
I have the production figures for REIPPPP. They are terrible, showing wild, unpredictable ups and downs in power production.
According to Eskom’s latest annual report for the year ending 31 March 2018, Eskom’s average selling price is about 89 cents/kWh (kilowatt-hour).
The average price it is forced to pay for renewable electricity is 222 cents/kWh – over double its selling price.
But this is the price Eskom pays for REIPPPP electricity; it is not the cost to Eskom, which is much more. This is because of the system costs.
The most important equation in costing renewable electricity: cost of renewable electricity = price of renewable electricity to the grid + system costs.
The system costs are the huge costs of incorporating the fluctuating, unreliable solar and wind power into the grid so that it can provide reliable electricity at the right frequency and voltage.
They include the back-up generators; the extra costs incurred by these generators ramping up and down to match the renewables and so using more fuel and incurring more stresses; spinning reserve (generators running at below optimum power); storage; extra transmission lines; and increased shut-downs caused by the renewables.
If the price of renewables to Eskom was 20 cents/kWh, the system costs would still make it prohibitively expensive.
We perhaps can get some idea of them by looking at the one honest renewable technology that covers its own system costs.
This is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) with storage. The latest CSP plants charge Eskom about 500 cents/kWh at peak times.
This is probably something like the true costs to Eskom of wind power and solar PV (photovoltaic panels, making electricity directly from sunlight).
The system costs explain this paradox.
Week by week the greens tell us the price of renewable energy is coming down but all around the world the cost of renewable energy is going up.
It is far more costly than anyone predicted twenty years ago and getting worse all the time.
The system costs are ignored by green energy modelers.
A prime example is the absurd model devised by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and now used by IRP2018 (our statutory plan for sources of electricity until 2030).
Under this mad plan the “least cost option” is a mixture of renewables and a “flexible” energy source, meaning gas – which would be imported.
In fact South Australia did implement just such a plan, and the results were even more disastrous than expected.
Australia, like us, used to get most of her electricity from coal. Prices to consumers came down and down.
Then in about 2005 she starting putting renewables on the grid. The prices to consumers then went up and up.
South Australia did even worse and moved from coal to a mixture of renewables and natural gas (which they, unlike us, have in abundance), doing almost exactly what the IRP wants us to do.
Electricity prices shot through the roof and there were two long black-outs of the whole state.
At one point in July 2016 prices reached the astonishing figure of R140/kWh – over 150 times Eskom’s selling price.
So much for the “least cost” option.
Denmark, with the world’s biggest proportion of wind electricity, probably has the most expensive electricity in Europe.
Germany, implementing her crazy “energiewende”, which meant replacing safe, cheap, reliable nuclear with expensive, unreliable renewables, has seen prices soaring (and incidentally has seen an increase in CO2 emissions).
The UK, with massive expenditure on wind power, has seen electricity bills rising steeply.
Why do special interests push for renewable energy? Two reasons: money and ideology.
The renewable power companies are no doubt making a fortune by forcing us to buy their costly electricity. This is why their spokesmen campaign in our media for renewables.
Solar and wind have many environmental problems, so why do the greens love them so?
I think it is because of their gigantic size and intrusive presence.
The greens, who yearn to control us, long to see our lovely landscape dominated by thousands of colossal wind turbines and massive solar arrays, all joined in a highly centralised power system.
After REIPPPP had proved an expensive failure, the then minister of public enterprises, Lynne Brown, ordered Eskom to sign up for 27 more of these ruinous renewable power contracts.
Malusi Gigaba, then finance minister, agreed.
Eskom has been wrecked with bad management, mad ideology, awful policy decisions and rampant corruption.
Our electricity supply system is heading for collapse. Forcing South Africa to abandon coal and nuclear for wind and solar will make it collapse altogether.
– Andrew Kenny is a professional engineer and a freelance journalist