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WWF reacts to draft Integrated Resource Plan 2023

We can and must do better when it comes to planning our energy future, says WWF South Africa.

The draft Integrated Resource Plan 2023 makes the case for a fossil-heavy electricity generation system on the basis of undisclosed and unsupported assumptions that are not replicable. It also does not take into account the uncompetitive future to which this poorly drafted plan would bind the South African economy.

“This is not only a step back for the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) in terms of consultation and clarity of work, it is a high-risk pitch for special interests at the cost of the citizens’ futures. We can and must do better,” says James Reeler, Senior Manager for Climate Action with WWF South Africa.

Reeler describes the draft IRP as “not only disappointing, it also seems to fly in the face of all other electricity generation models, both national and internationally”.

“It would appear that the IRP’s conclusions are driven by a foregone conclusion that fossil gas and coal are necessary, with modelling constraints for different pathways constructed to support this. The end result is a vision that proposes to increase greenhouse gas emissions and the concomitant health impacts of our energy system, at massive cost to human health and wellbeing,” he says.

The IRP’s cost assumptions differ significantly from what has been seen in the real world, where renewable energy (RE) is now the cheapest form of energy that has ever been available. Moreover, the unwarranted assertion that large scale renewable builds will necessarily result in large amounts of unserved energy is likely driven more by artificial constraints placed on the model than real feasibility assessment.

Hundreds of studies globally have demonstrated the feasibility of cost-effective full energy provision with higher RE penetration rates than 95%, using just extant technologies such as batteries, thermal storage, compressed air storage and gravity storage, with horizon technologies such as green hydrogen enabling seasonal backup. The IRP appears to have eschewed most of these for no clear reason.

The IRP’s near-term reliance on fossil gas to make up a shortfall in generation should not be construed to mean that exploitation of gas reserves is a viable option for the long term. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and International Energy Agency (IEA) are clear that to meet the global goal of limiting climate change to near 1.5 °C the world cannot afford to make use of any additional fossil fuels.

In addition, a legitimate economic assessment of the impacts of a high emissions pathway should also consider the additional effects of being unable to export products to key markets, as well as the additional climate and human health impacts. Delaying the shutdown of coal plants will violate any chance of South Africa meeting its international mitigation commitments; the low likelihood and very high cost of carbon capture and storage mean it is not a reasonable fix for continued operation of coal plants.

Overall, WWF is extremely concerned that Cabinet has approved this document in its current state for public consultation, and calls for better transparency and rigour in the development of such critical planning documents. It strongly urges that DMRE makes their assumptions and model workings clear, to enable proper assessment of their conclusions.

To safeguard our collective future, we need to fast-track access to renewable energy.

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