Smart Electricity for South Africa – a civil society response

South Africa’s central electricity planning instrument, the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity, is due for review in the near future. Many criticisms, both in terms of content and process, have been levelled against this national policy. Although the large renewable electricity generation component in IRP2010 was a welcomed policy shift, the Plan continues to rely on coal-fired power as the dominant fuel mix in South Africa’s electricity supply.

Critics state that demand projections in IRP2010 far exceed actual anticipated growth in consumption, with insufficient attention paid to the capacity of energy efficiency in managing demand. The Plan has furthermore been criticised for pandering to industrial interests, particularly the mineral-energy complex, and continues to promote a high carbon economy with limited labour absorption potential. In terms of process, the Department of Energy makes use of IRP modelling which is largely undertaken by Eskom, based on industrial and municipal data that over projects demand, locking South Africa into an expensive expansion programme. Critics suggest that modelling and policy making functions should be independent and separated and a range of stakeholders/interest groups should be able to model a variety of scenarios to inform policy decisions.

In response to the content and process of national electricity policy development, a loose network of actors from not-for-profit, local government, academic and community-based institutions (under the umbrella of the Electricity Governance Initiative) developed an alternative electricity plan for South Africa – the Smart Electricity Plan. Data was collected from many different sources and modelled using SNAPP (Sustainable National Accessible Power Planning), a user friendly and accessible national electricity modelling programme developed by the Energy Research Centre.

The Smart Plan describes an evidence-based scenario with increased utility scale clean/renewable electricity supply, deployment of distributed, small-scale electricity generation and greater consideration of energy efficiency to reduce demand. The Smart Plan also models the associated costs of such a trajectory and socio-economic and environmental benefits of such an electricity future. The process for developing the Smart Plan was evidence-based, participatory, inclusive, engaged and bottom-up. The future the Smart Plan advocates is reasonable and attainable – it encourages a low carbon, resilient, diverse (in terms of fuel mix and source) and efficient electricity system that creates jobs.

Readers can decide for themselves by comparing the Smart Electricity Plan to the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity. For background on the stakeholders engaged in the Smart Plan visit the Electricity Governance Initiative website.

Saul holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and a Master of Environmental Studies (MEnv). He is part of the Mistra Urban Futures Programme (MUF), a programme which aims to create new capacities through co-production of knowledge as a partnership between local government and universities. Saul’s research area is local government energy governance. He is embedded in the City of Cape Town’s Energy and Climate Change Unit where he is assisting with the development of various sustainable energy policies. He is currently conducting research, for a Ph.D., on local government led sustainable energy development, particularly looking at regulation and socio-technical systems. 


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