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Africa Energy Indaba highlights opportunities and challenges

by Tia

Access to reliable electricity is a huge and immediate concern in South Africa currently, but one that cannot be addressed without bearing in mind the imperative for sustainable energy into the future. This conundrum was at the heart of presentations and deliberations during the three-day Africa Energy Indaba that took place in Cape Town last week.

According to Faith Mkhacwa, General Manager: Energy Efficiency at the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), which was one of the event’s sponsors, the dialogues SANEDI had with its counterparts on the continent showed significant alignment between plans and objectives and revealed opportunities for even closer collaboration.

A major and persistent challenge, however, remains funding for Africa’s energy transition. “The developed world’s investment proposals carry terms and conditions that burden African countries with environmental requirements that far outweigh the socioeconomic realities we need to deal with,” says Mkhacwa,. “In our context, the energy transition can only be truly just if it strikes a balance between environmental requirements, immediate energy needs and socioeconomic considerations.”

Prof Sampson Mamphweli from SANEDI illustrates this point by highlighting the economic growth potential of an energy mix that is appropriate for South Africa’s current situation and future sustainability alike. The hydrogen economy has the potential to attract about R300 billion in investment between now and 2030, he says, and a further R200 billion to R300 billion until 2050, contributing between 10% and 15% in the Gross Domestic Product. “But that depends on us getting the energy mix right, which includes our existing coal-fired fleet of power stations operating to capacity.”

“My impression is that SANEDI has achieved its objectives for the African Energy Indaba,” comments Prof Sampson Mamphweli. “We had three productive days that showcased South Africa’s Just Energy Transition plans and, more importantly, the progress we are making and the successes we have already achieved. As an organisation we are pleased with how well our initiatives have been received by government, industry players and funders.”

One such initiative is the conversion of public transport vehicles to run on electricity. The team involved in the project – SANEDI, the University of Stellenbosch and Rham Equipment – started by converting a traditional minibus taxi and have now set their sights on diesel-powered buses. The aim is to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles and improve the overall quality of public transportation – a dual objective most South Africans can get behind.

The conversion project was showcased at the African Energy Indaba during the Electric Vehicle (EV) Forum, a day that SANEDI sponsored and hosted. The development work the institute facilitates and supports in the EV space is part of its overall Green Mobility Programme, of which the establishment of a hydrogen economy is a cornerstone.

“An energy future that is sustainable as much as an enabler and driver of economic growth is SANEDI’s stated objective with all the projects it spearheads,” says ProfSampson Mamphweli. “It is also the direction in which it strives to influence national policy. We see the African Energy Indaba as a way to both facilitate and accelerate the achievement of this objective.”

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