SA’s energy transition journey paved with drawbacks

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 26 Mar 2024
SA’s energy transition needs to strike a balance between environmental, socio-economic and immediate energy requirements.
SA’s energy transition needs to strike a balance between environmental, socio-economic and immediate energy requirements.

While South Africa envisions attaining its goal of reliable and consistent electricity supply, the energy transition journey is paved with challenges, such as insufficient financial support and lack of capacity-building.

This conundrum was at the heart of presentations and panel discussions held during the three-day Africa Energy Indaba, in Cape Town, last week.

Faith Mkhacwa, GM of energy efficiency at the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), highlighted the significance of energy sector ecosystem collaborations on the continent.

The engagements and dialogues SANEDI has been having with its counterparts on the continent show significant alignment between plans and objectives, and revealed opportunities for even closer collaboration, noted Mkhacwa.

“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 socio-economic realities we need to deal with.

“In our context, the energy transition can only be truly just if it strikes a balance between environmental requirements, immediate energy needs and socio-economic considerations,” said Mkhacwa.

Professor Sampson Mamphweli, head of energy secretariat at SANEDI, highlighted the economic growth potential of an energy mix that is appropriate for SA’s current situation and future sustainability alike.

“The hydrogen economy has the potential to attract about R300 billion in investment between now and 2030, and a further R200 billion to R300 billion until 2050, contributing between 10% and 15% of the country’s 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,” explained Mamphweli.

Through various initiatives on exhibition, the three-day Africa Energy Indaba showcased SA’s just energy transition plans, and the progress the country is making, the challenges it experiences and the successes it has already achieved.

Mamphweli referenced the conversion of public transport vehicles from combustion engines to electric engines, with the aim to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles and improve the overall quality of public transportation.

The team involved in the ongoing project – SANEDI, the University of Stellenbosch and Rham Equipment – started by converting a traditional minibus taxi last year, and have now set their sights on diesel-powered buses.

The conversion project was showcased at the African Energy Indaba during the Electric Vehicle (EV) Forum. The development work the university 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.

The forum delved into the latest advancements in EV technology, sustainable charging infrastructure, and the potential impact on reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

“An energy future that is sustainable, as well as an enabler and driver of economic growth, is SANEDI’s stated objective with all the projects it spearheads. It is also the direction in which our organisation strives to influence national policy,” concluded Mamphweli.