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Renewables industry upbeat on new electricity, energy ministry

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 02 Jul 2024
Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, minister of electricity and energy.
Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, minister of electricity and energy.

South Africa’s renewable energy industry bodies have welcomed the merging of the electricity and energy portfolios, as well as the retaining of Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to head the ministry.

This, after president Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday night announced the new members of the national executive for the seventh administration, which is inclusive of all the parties in the Government of National Unity (GNU).

The deputy minister of electricity and energy is Samantha Graham, who is a politician from opposition party the Democratic Alliance.

South Africa has endured crippling energy challenges over the years, as state-owned power utility Eskom struggled to keep the lights on.

While South Africans are currently celebrating over 100 days of no load-shedding, the newly-formed Department of Electricity and Energy will act as a policymaker and shareholder for Eskom.

The Solar PV Industry Association has welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement.

“We have already established a good relationship with his [Ramokgopa’s] office and we congratulate him on this appointment,” says Dr Rethabile Melamu, CEO of the industry body.

“The minister has a solid appreciation of the contribution that solar PV can and has made to the country's electricity supply. We look forward to again working alongside his ministry to contribute to energy security by tapping into the abundant solar resources that the country can access. This will also help unlock job opportunities and the many other opportunities that exist within the solar PV value chain.”

Huge task

Another industry body, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), has also welcomed the finalisation of the seventh administration.

Given the complex nature of the process, SAWEA says it commends the president for his meticulous approach in selecting the national Cabinet of 75 ministers across 32 portfolios from all parties to form the GNU.

SAWEA CEO Niveshen Govender comments: “The president has demonstrated his commitment to prioritising the needs of South Africans and upholding the Constitution through an inclusive Cabinet, comprising more young people and women.

“He has further shown his dedication to ensuring a smooth, just energy transition with key ministry adjustments, such as the separation of mineral resources and energy, and the merger of energy with electricity, fostering a concerted effort to achieve distributive, restorative and procedural justice.”

The association supports the separation of mineral resources and energy into two ministries, saying this enables the country to prioritise energy security with a special focus on electricity.

According to SAWEA, through a concerted effort in forming this new ministry of electricity and energy, the association is confident SA’s energy security will be the central focus of unified collaborative efforts under the GNU.

Over the past 15 months, the industry body notes Ramokgopa has been deliberate and consistent in keeping consumers informed about government’s comprehensive reforms to achieve energy sovereignty.

“We believe minister Ramokgopa’s role in stabilising SA’s power supply has yielded positive results in the first half of the year. Eskom last imposed rolling power cuts on 26 March 2024, marking the longest period of energy stability in the country since 2021, and reached a significant milestone in curbing load-shedding by achieving an energy availability factor of 65.5% in April 2024.

“These are just a few of many considerable achievements in the country’s electricity supply under Ramokgopa’s watch in consultation and collaboration with the utility’s new leadership,” says the association.

Lingering issues

It points out that while the wind energy sector is optimistic about a positive future under this new ministry, industry challenges remain a concern, particularly ahead of the REIPPPP BW7 submission deadline and the dwindling grid capacity in wind-rich areas.

“We have high expectations for the newly-formed ministry of electricity and energy to work with industry and overcome sector challenges, including grid constraints, regulatory and policy uncertainty, as well as local manufacturing limitations,” Govender says.

“To mitigate these, there is a critical need to accelerate the integration of wind energy as part of the county’s energy mix and requires policy and strategic intervention to ensure an affordable, stable and reliable electricity supply across SA.

“The new ministry should prioritise overseeing the maintenance and expansion of the country's electricity infrastructure, inter-departmental energy policy alignment and stabilising the grid. As SAWEA, we will continue to promote renewable energy (wind power in particular), and work with government to create an attractive investment destination with consistency and continuity for the wind sector, contributing to the national grid and addressing energy security challenges.”