The use of gas turbines should, ideally, be conceptualised and the related infrastructure constructed as soon as possible in the Western Cape to overcome current electricity undercapacity issues and grow future demand, says business leadership organisation Accelerate Cape Town (ACT).
However, ACT CEO Chris Whelan notes that gas turbines should not be fuelled by diesel, which is how Eskom currently operates Ankerlig and Gourikwa power stations in the Western Cape. Whelan explains that running gas turbines on diesel is vastly inefficient and expensive. “I feel that gas definitely provides a bridge for the current power gap, considering that gas is about 30% more efficient than coal and produces about 50% less emissions than coal-fired power generation.” He further notes that gas can be relatively easily shipped into Saldanha Bay in a liquefied form and regasified and piped to new gas-fired power stations on an economical basis. It takes about two years to construct gas-fired power plants, which could fully alleviate the current power crisis. However, coal-fired power stations should not be written off as Eskom has invested billions of rands into existing and the new coal-fired power stations Medupi and Kusile.
Whelan also thinks that the focus on nuclear power should be abandoned and increased focus should be put on renewable-energy , in conjunction with gas. Construction of nuclear power stations are lengthy and expensive, and by the time it reaches operation, the technology could be outdated and inefficient. “The common argument against this using renewable energy and gas-fired power plants for baseload generation is that gas cannot provide baseload power. However, used intelligently, renewables with gas will be ideal as a baseload generation solution.”
Meanwhile, he highlights several challenges that arise with the construction of new power plants. These include environmental-impact assessments that need to be fast-tracked. “The cost implication, as well as long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) and future demand also need to be considered,” says Whelan. He adds that long-term PPA security is required for these kinds of projects to be profitable.
This kind of action plan need to be urgently embarked on, as Eskom only envisages bringing additional capacity on line in the next five years. Eskom has already run over schedule with Medupi and Kusile and over budget by about R267-billion. Also by Eskom’s own admission to Parliament – of Eskom’s 87 coal-fired generating units, 32 are in need of “severe surgery” and another three are critically ill. Thus about 40% of Eskom’s bulk-generating coal fleet is in a state of severe vulnerability.
He states that South Africa can learn several lessons from the current electricity crisis. In the midst of a power crisis in the mid-1970s, government instituted a programme of action, which transformed Eskom and made it sustainable for the time being,” says Whelan. Adopting an optimistic approach, he hopes that Eskom and government emerge from the current crisis in a similar fashion, with positive outcomes and sound solutions.
An extended version of this article originally featured in Engineering News on 15 May.