Renewables, gas and coal can’t match nuclear powered electricity generation

August 2nd, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize



Knox Msebenzi

The Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) has welcomed the recent statements made by Eskom and the minister of Public Enterprises that nuclear energy is South Africa’s most viable option for safe, reliable, green and affordable base load power.

Investments in nuclear power plants will just be the beginning. Supply chains, jobs, skills development, industry and education will all benefit from this investment. Nuclear power will benefit all South Africans in one way or another. This is in line with the government’s 9-point plan which looks to resolve the country’s energy challenges through short, medium-term and long-term measures. A secure energy future is guaranteed through nuclear power.

The development of the nuclear power industry will prove to be an important catalyst to reinvigorate the South African economy. Billions of rand will be invested in the building of safe, reliable and sustainable nuclear power plants that power South Africa for decades to come. A secure energy future contributes to an inclusive economy that builds capabilities, infrastructure and the investments in this regard will help eliminate poverty and reduce inequality as jobs are created, skills shared and industry developed, not to mention the socio-economic spinoffs of the build itself.

Renewables, nuclear, gas and coal will all play critical roles in supplying the South African economy with energy for the foreseeable future. Nuclear energy, along with coal, has been identified as the only sources of reliable baseload power, i.e. sources of power that can produce dependable power to consistently meet demand, needed to drive the South African economy forward. Gas is also on the cards but due to the volatility in fuel costs and the uncertainty of fracking in the country it is not a viable base load option but rather a good peaking power option subject to its commercial viability. Nuclear power has the added advantage of having zero greenhouse emissions.

Renewables undoubtedly have a part to play in South Africa’s energy mix, but until storage technology has caught up and is easily deployable, the energy supplied by these sources will really only be available intermittently and not always when the country needs it. The country is in dire need of dispatchable generation. This refers to sources of electricity that can be dispatched at the request of power grid operators, i.e. generating plants which can be turned on or off, or can adjust their power output on demand.

What is also important to note in the context of baseload vs. renewables is the net capacity factor. New generation nuclear power plants can achieve a capacity factor in excess of 92% while solar, and wind achieve a net capacity factor of roughly 25%. In real terms, this means if government were to replace its 9600 MW nuclear programme with renewables, it would require at least 50 000 MW to achieve the same amount of electricity over its lifetime. This also means additional investment in storage capacity and back up generation capacity for extended periods of cloud cover and no wind.

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