Pretoria – Eskom is to establish a Specialisation Centre that focuses on nuclear engineering and technology as part of the Eskom Power Plant Engineering Institute (EPPEI) Phase two programme, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said on Tuesday.
“I would like to announce today that as part of EPPEI Phase 2 programme, Eskom will establish a Specialisation Centre focusing on Nuclear Engineering and Technology. The specialisation centre will have a dedicated director and partnership with reputable international universities,” Minister Brown said.
Speaking at the Power-Gen Africa conference, in Johannesburg, the Minister said South Africa has only two options for base-load and mid-merit operations to manage electricity system requirements.
“These are coal and nuclear. The decision on which technology to deploy then requires an assessment of lifecycle cost, current and future predicted costs, and COP 21 commitments,” said Minister Brown.
The Minister’s comments come as Eskom is today due to sign the EPPEI funding agreement it has with the Universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, North-West, Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal and Stellenbosch, in partnership with a further seven other universities.
Phase 2 of the EPPEI programme, is due to run from 2017 to 2021 and is aimed to fund masters and PhD graduates among others.
Minister Brown told the conference that there has been debate on the current and future costs of coal and nuclear. There is growing consensus that future cost comparisons will swing in favour of nuclear given increasing coal-fired plant costs associated with more stringent emission limits and the introduction of carbon taxes.
Nuclear power, said the Minister, offers one of the cheapest sources of electricity that comes with zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“This requires more research work to quantify and firm up our position that nuclear is favourable than any fossil power generation,” she said.
Investment in energy
She told delegates that South Africa has experience of how no investment in energy and electricity infrastructure contributed to low growth levels in the economy. In addition, no investment in energy and electricity continues to push the black majority into deepening levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
“Taking electricity power to greater number of citizens, across South Africa and our African continent is indeed critical for economic development, human capital development and in providing the poor a head-start.”
Government has taken the decision that industrialisation and infrastructure investment must be a priority to bring energy and electricity supply and distribution to people and industries.
Energy on the African continent
The African continent accounts for more than 40% of all people in the world who do not have access to electricity.
“The International Energy Agency provides a frightening yet sobering picture that shows that, in the 21st century, more than 10 countries in Africa have 75% of their population living without access to electricity, followed by an additional 10 countries that have half of their population living without electricity.”
The lack of electricity on the continent remains one of the biggest barriers to the region’s development and prosperity, and continues to trap millions of people in extreme and abject poverty.
“The current energy deficit in Africa is alarming. Ageing power infrastructure remains unable to meet the surge in power demand.”
The Minister also spoke of the importance of skills that are needed in the building of large infrastructure projects.
South Africa, which is heavily coal based, is moving towards lower carbon technologies with renewable energy envisaged to contribute 9.2 GW made up of wind and photovoltaic sources, among others.
Minister Brown also spoke of the fact that the price of electricity is the cheapest in South Africa in US cents per kilowatt hour on the continent.
“Economic growth will be severely harmed in the medium term without the additional electricity generation capacity. We are indeed concerned that if electricity prices are determined by market forces, lack of additional capacity would result in significant increases in electricity prices,” she said.