Renewables to plug SA’s electricity shortfall, says Ramaphosa

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 11 Feb 2022

President Cyril Ramaphosa has pinned his hopes on renewable energy to resuscitate South Africa’s frail energy sector, which he believes will give a much-needed boost to the economy.

He made the remarks last night when he presented the State of the Nation Address in Cape Town.

In making the announcement, the president acknowledged the electricity crisis is one of the greatest threats to economic and social progress in SA.

This, as state-owned power utility Eskom, which provides over 90% of the county’s electricity, has over the years implemented multiple bouts of load-shedding, much to the detriment of the fragile economy.

“In the last few days, we have once again been reminded of the fragility of our electricity system,” said Ramaphosa. Eskom last week again plunged the country into darkness after load-shedding.

“Load-shedding continues to have a huge impact on the lives of all South Africans, disrupting business activities, and placing additional strain on families and communities.”

He also revealed that due to the country’s aging power stations, poor maintenance, policy missteps and the ruinous effects of state capture, SA has a shortfall of around 4 000MW of electricity.

During the past year, he said, government has taken firm steps to bring additional generation capacity online as quickly as possible to close the shortfall.

“As a result, several new energy generation projects will be coming online over the next few years,” said the president.

This includes:

  • Over 500MW from the remaining projects in Bid Window 4 of the renewable energy programme, which are at advanced stages of construction.
  • 2 600MW from Bid Window 5 of the renewable energy programme, for which the preferred bidders were announced last year.
  • Up to 800MW from those risk mitigation power projects that are ready to proceed.
  • 2 600MW from Bid Window 6 of the renewal energy programme, which will soon be opened.
  • 3 000MW of gas power and 500MW of battery storage, for which requests for proposals will be released later this year.
  • An estimated 4 000MW from embedded generation projects in the mining sector.
  • Approximately 1 400MW currently in the process of being secured by various municipalities.

“In addition to closing the energy supply shortfall, we are implementing fundamental changes to the structure of the electricity sector,” Ramaphosa said.

He added that Eskom has established a separate transmission subsidiary, and is on track to complete its unbundling by December 2022.

“Renewable energy production will make electricity cheaper and more dependable, and will allow our industries to remain globally competitive.

The president added that investments in electric vehicles and hydrogen will equip SA to meet the global clean energy future.

In response, environmental advocacy group Greenpeace says it welcomes the president's reaffirmed commitment to procuring renewable energy capacity under Bid Window 5.

However, it says the president must let go of any fantasies that gas power will light South Africa's future.

In his speech, Ramaphosa said SA will continue to support the development of the upstream gas industry, as it holds huge potential for job creation and broader economic development.

Says Greenpeace Africa climate and energy campaigner Nhlanhla Sibisi: “Gas will only lock SA into a high emissions trajectory and derail our commitments under the Paris Agreement. Hydrogen is not the answer either. The best and most immediate solution to South Africa's problems is a just transition to renewable energy. It’s that simple.

“On Eskom, we welcome the steps to unbundle the monstrosity that is our electricity supplier. The fact that renewables will be playing a bigger role is an indication that the government is beginning to see reason. Renewable energy across all levels is the answer to load-shedding. South Africans need the potential of renewable energy at a residential level to be unlocked.”