Bioenergy in South Africa’s Long-Term Power System Planning

The global energy sector is currently experiencing a period of significant disruption and transition, compounded locally by uncertainties regarding the performance of the coal fleet, grid availability, and evolving policy and regulation. Successful planning in such high-uncertainty contexts emphasises developing flexible options and building system resilience. Transitioning to a renewable energy system presents several challenges, including intraday mismatches of electricity supply and demand, seasonal and regional energy supply mismatches, de-fossilising all sectors, and the need for negative emissions to offset unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. Bioenergy offers technical solutions for flexible power generation to address some of these challenges. By storing bio-based feedstocks, intermediates and final products, bioenergy-based conversion systems can provide demand-oriented electricity, compensating for fluctuations in energy production and the resulting residual load.

Despite the potential benefits, bioenergy is not an emerging technology in long-term power system planning in South Africa. This may be due to unknowns regarding installable capacity and resource availability. Typically, it might be assumed that bioenergy capacities are minimal and thus do not significantly impact optimisation outcomes in capacity expansion, unit commitment, and economic dispatch modeling exercises. Our research seeks to investigate the underlying assumptions regarding bioenergy is South Africa’s long-term power system planning and explore why bioelectricity is underrepresented in the future energy mix. A detailed literature review will investigate the technical, economic, and policy-related factors affecting the successful implementation of bioelectricity technologies globally. The study will describe possible technical solutions for bioelectricity production from solid, liquid, and gaseous biofuels, providing an economic assessment of selected global technical concepts. Insights from international legislative and market conditions will be used to evaluate the local potential for demand-oriented bioelectricity generation, offering a comprehensive understanding of the role bioenergy can play in South Africa’s renewable energy future.

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