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Inclusivity paves the way to SA’s new energy future

by Tia

At the media roundtable hosted as part of the South African National Energy Development Institute’s (SANEDI’s) inaugural annual energy conference, collaboration and inclusion emerged as strong themes in discussions around South Africa’s energy transition project. 

Of particular interest was how the decision to repower and repurpose old coal-fired power stations tallies with South Africa’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and switch to clean and renewable energy sources. In his response, SANEDI’s CEO, Dr Titus Mathe, emphasised the importance of an “and-and” approach instead of an “either-or” approach. “Repowering and repurposing old power stations do not refer to only one technology; we are looking at a range of applicable, cleaner fossil-fuel technologies.” 

The same theme emerged in answers to questions related to the use of international loans and grants to fund South Africa’s Just Energy Transition (JET), as well as how renewable energy sources can be implemented in rural areas and informal settlements. The message from the panellists was that South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) sets the policy framework within which funding is applied, and technologies explored and that within that framework, a wide array of options are being investigated. 

“We welcome the loans announced by National Treasury today,” said SANEDI’s Dr Mathe, “but it is important to understand that the funding comes to us in response to the government’s policy framework.” The Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Nobuhle Nkabane, mentioned that the presidential planning commission that deals with all matters related to climate change is formulating the plan according to which the R33.5 billion in new loans will be allocated. Dr Mathe noted that SANEDI’s view is that the funds will be used to upgrade the grid, roll out cleaner coal technologies and do research.

Grid requirements arose as a reason for the delay in finalising and publishing the long-awaited updated IRP. In response to several questions regarding the IRP, the panellists noted that the 2019 plan had not taken transmission requirements in consideration. Adding a transmission module to the modelling, as well as green hydrogen as a fuel of the future, had delayed the plan. However, it is going through cabinet at the moment and should be ready for public participation by the end of this year.

SANEDI highlighted the range of technologies that have been successfully piloted and are ready to be rolled out in rural areas and informal settlements. These include paint that cool down roofs and walls, biogas, solar technology and biofuels. Prof Sampson Mamphweli mentioned the innovative work being done to convert captured carbon into useful products such as green ammonia. He also highlighted the multi-stakeholder project currently being piloted in a village in Limpopo that combines water, food and energy technologies with rural economic and skills development, as well as technology-driven solutions – such as solar-powered science and media labs – to improve rural education.

While JET is well-known now, SANEDI’s Dr Mathe introduced the Balanced Just Energy Transition in his welcoming address. Asked to unpack it, he said that “balanced” signifies that all technologies must be considered in the country’s energy transition programme. Casting the net must be cast as wide applies not only to technology, however, but also to participants in the process. There is a role for the private sector to play in research and development, in supporting Eskom to overcome the electricity crisis and even in building new generating capacity.

Deputy Minister Nkabane summarised it best with her concluding statement when she reiterated the International Energy Agency’s recent declaration that oil, gas and nuclear are regarded as green technologies that should be exploited to grow economies. “We have to develop our own reserves within the context of our national climate-change mitigation commitments and the socioeconomic circumstances of our people. We need to invest in science, technology and innovation to grow the economy and address our energy challenges.”

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