Former board chair of Necsa Dr Kelvin Kemm.
Former board chair of Necsa Dr Kelvin Kemm.

OPINION: Coal and uranium SA's most available sources for electricity

By Kelvin Kemm Time of article published Oct 21, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG - To say that electricity is the lifeblood of the country is a very good analogy.

A human body needs blood to flow to all parts of the body, without interruption, at a constant pressure. An interruption in flow or a sudden drop in pressure results in death or at the least the person passing out, maybe behind the steering wheel of a car. Either way, bad consequences.

Electricity needs to flow all over the country, without interruption and at a reliable voltage and frequency. If it stops flowing, or voltage or frequency suddenly drop, death or drama result. Either way, bad consequences.

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe has announced the vision of the country's electricity supply future.

To my mind it was characterised by good sense and realism. We must have a vision of a future that can be trusted. The lifeblood has to keep flowing at a pressure and rate that one can trust.

Mantashe pointed out that our country is blessed with a great deal of coal, so we should use it. He also said that we will continue on a nuclear path.

He pointed out that South Africa's cheapest electricity, right now, is nuclear power from Koeberg nuclear power station. It cost 40c/kWh/ , in comparison to other power sources which cost more than R4/kWh/ .

Mantashe also said that nuclear is a "no regrets" decision. Koeberg now illustrates the wise nuclear decisions taken half-a-century ago to build nuclear.

I frequently wonder why so many journalists and fringe green "energy experts" cover up the Koeberg costs and economic benefits. Also, why do they never point out that solar power is not available at night, and why solar and wind energy are so expensive.

The minister went to some pains to emphasise that the term "least-cost option" has been abused, and that it has various interpretations. If a farmer sells a prize bull from his farm near Durban to another farmer who needs the bull on his farm near Polokwane, what is "the cost"?

Do you look at the cost of sale at the seller's front gate near Durban, or do you look at the cost "as delivered" in the bull's new pen near Polokwane? The transport is expensive. You should have a veterinary surgeon on hand to watch your investment. You want a crew of three or four on the truck. You don’t want a dead or injured bull.

It is not reasonable to quote the cost of solar electricity "at the front gate" in De Aar, at midday; or the cost of wind power "at the front gate" near Jeffreys Bay, when the wind is blowing well.

The Times of India, in an article last week, quoted India's coal secretary Subhash Chandra Garg saying that India "must urgently expand its coal production from 600million tons a year to a billion tons a year to meet basic energy needs". I totally agree with his statement.

The Minister’s phrase: "No regrets", was very relevant. Nuclear and coal power must be the foundation of our reliable, genuine, least-cost, base-load, electricity supply.

Kelvin Kemm is the chief executive of Nuclear Africa.


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