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 these gas turbines should not be fuelled by diesel, which is how State-owned power utility Eskom is currently operating its two open-cycle gas turbines, the Ankerlig and Gourikwa power stations, both in the Western Cape.
Whelan explains that running open-cycle gas turbines on diesel is deemed vastly inefficient and requires an extensive fleet of diesel tankers to make daily deliveries, which costs millions of rands monthly.
“There is definitely a strong push in the Western Cape to pursue gas turbines to supplement national baseload power generation,” he says, adding that gas should be complemented with an increased uptake in renewable energy.
“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,” says Whelan.
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. “There are two options for the regasification of liquid natural gas (LNG), which is imported. This can either be done through sea-based floating regasification platforms or land-based regasification plants,” says Whelan, adding that both of these solutions can be built in about two years.
Whelan also notes that it takes about two years to construct gas-fired power plants, which would thereby fully alleviate the current power crisis on a fast-tracked basis.
He points out, however, that coal-fired power stations should not be written off, as Eskom has invested billions of rands into the maintenance of existing coal-fired power stations and the construction of two new coal-fired power stations – Medupi and Kusile – as the bulk of its baseload fleet.
In addition, Whelan tells Engineering News that the focus on nuclear power should be abandoned and increased focus should be put on renewable-energy sources, in conjunction with gas.
He discounts nuclear power on the basis of its lengthy construction timeframe and South Africa’s current instability, especially with regard to power sustainability and finances. Whelan adds that, by the time a new nuclear power station reaches operation, the technology is likely to be outdated and, subsequently, inefficient at that point in time.
“The [common] argument against this theory [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. Renewables can provide a steady power source when they are available, such as photovoltaic solutions during daylight hours, and gas plants could be used to fill in the gaps where the additional capacity is required,” says Whelan.
Another solution, which he believes will be well supported, would be to convert Ankerlig and Gourikwa power stations into gas-fired power stations, instead of diesel, which will have far greater efficiencies, alleviating the hassle of constantly needing to tank in diesel. “In effect, this would move the two power stations to the fuel for which they were designed to use, enabling more effective asset management,” says Whelan.
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 this kind of project to be successful, in terms of profitability.
Whelan notes that these kinds of action plans need to be embarked on as a matter of urgency, as Eskom only envisages bringing additional capacity on line in the next five years.
He notes that Eskom has already run over schedule with Medupi and Kusile by about three and five years respectively and is over budget by about R267-billion. He notes that this will persist into the future as deadlines are extended and “budgets are blown”.
Whelan highlights how critical a predicament Eskom is currently in, citing reports from 2014, which indicated – by Eskom’s own admission in Parliament – that, of Eskom’s 87 coal-fired generating units, 32 were in need of “severe surgery” and that another three were critically ill.
This equates to about 40% of Eskom’s bulk-generating coal fleet being in a state of severe vulnerability.
He states that South Africa can learn several lessons from the current electricity crisis. “Never waste a bad crisis, as it is an important learning opportunity to avoid future repeats of current events.
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.