Govt hints at expediting renewables into energy mix

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 11 Dec 2019
Energy and mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe.
Energy and mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe.

The government has backed down from its previous position regarding the renewable energy sector, saying the process of purchasing energy from independent power producers (IPPs) would now be expedited.

In the past, the government seemed reluctant to go full steam ahead with renewables, resulting in a policy conundrum that irked the sector.

The sapping nature of government’s attitude towards the renewable energy sector had been cited as one of the major obstacles slowing the adoption of renewables in SA.

Leading the charge was South African Wind Energy Association CEO, Ntombifuthi Ntuli, who recently told ITWeb: “The public officials are hearing a lot of voices, including ours, and we know there is strong opposition towards the move to renewable energy. There is a very strong lobby against renewable energy and everyone is lobbying the same office.”

Yesterday, as the pressure mounted after the country was plunged into unprecedented stage 6 power cuts for the first time, energy and mineral resources minister, Gwede Mantashe, made a surprise announcement that the fourth bid window for renewable energy projects by IPPs, which was signed last year, would be brought on stream earlier.

Mantashe committed his department to develop adequate generation capacity to meet electricity demand, adding that this was an urgent and immediate task to ensure economic growth.

In a statement, the minister said he had considered short and medium-term interventions to both the electricity and energy challenges facing the country.

“These include, among others, publication of the request for information. The lead time for generation projects under normal circumstances is anything from 36 months onwards. The RFI will enable the department to have a sense of immediate generation options available (three to 12 months) to help fill the short-term gap,” reads the statement.

He added this would then enable the department to design an appropriate intervention in the immediate term, promulgate Section 34 determinations, and IPPs would bring Window 4 capacity on stream earlier. The department would also drive for the use of LPG gas.

On Monday, interest groups in the renewable energy sector called for swift and prompt action, promising that the sector could add up to 2 000MW to the energy mix within 12 months.

Ntuli said: “The operational wind energy plants have excess capacity of about 500MW available immediately. These can also be short-term contracts that can be signed in this interim capacity constraint period, and it doesn’t have to be viewed as long-term commitments.”

Similarly, the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) said the latest round of load-shedding has “provided further evidence of the power utility’s increasing inability to supply the level of electricity required by South Africa’s households and industries”.

SAPVIA added: “We therefore urge the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to swiftly implement any of the legislative or regulatory changes that would be required to allow generators of less than 10MW to generate without undergoing the arduous NERSA licensing process.”