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Ramaphosa sees renewables as answer to Eskom’s woes

Read time 4min 40sec

Among a raft of measures to stabilise SA’s electricity needs, president Cyril Ramaphosa has indicated that renewable energy can be the answer to the country’s energy supply needs.

Ramaphosa made the announcement last night in his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The president delivered his SONA speech at a time SA is facing crippling electricity shortages, as power utility Eskom, which supplies about 95% of the country’s electricity, battles to keep the lights on.

At its worst, the struggling state-owned company had to implement stage six load-shedding which severely impacted households and industry.

In his speech, the president said for over a decade, South Africans have had to contend with the effects of a constrained energy supply.

“I have spoken extensively about the critical role that Eskom plays in the economy of our country and in the livelihood of every South African. The load-shedding of the last few months has had a debilitating effect on our country. It has severely set back our efforts to rebuild the economy and to create jobs,” he said.

Upping grid capacity

In order to “rapidly and significantly increase generation capacity outside of Eskom”, Ramaphosa said a Section 34 ministerial determination will be issued shortly to give effect to the Integrated Resource Plan 2019, enabling the development of additional grid capacity from renewable energy, natural gas, hydro power, battery storage and coal.

“We will initiate the procurement of emergency power from projects that can deliver electricity into the grid within three to 12 months from approval,” he said.

He added the national energy regulator will continue to register small-scale distributed generation for own use of under 1MW, for which no licence is required.

According to Ramaphosa, the regulator will ensure all applications by commercial and industrial users to produce electricity for own use above 1MW are processed within the prescribed 120 days. It should be noted there is now no limit to installed capacity above 1MW, he said.

“We will open bid window five of the renewable energy IPP [independent power producer] and work with producers to accelerate the completion of window four projects. We will negotiate supplementary power purchase agreements to acquire additional capacity from existing wind and solar plants.

“We will also put in place measures to enable municipalities in good financial standing to procure their own power from independent power producers.”

Mother City boost

Enabling municipalities to purchase their own power from IPPs came as good news to the City of Cape Town, which has been seeking permission to buy its own energy needs.

In a statement, the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Western Cape says it welcomes the long-overdue undertaking by Ramaphosa to allow municipalities to source energy directly from IPPs.

“We also welcome the announcement that NERSA will continue registering small-scale distributed generation for own use of under 1MW, for which no licence is required; as well as ensure that all applications by commercial and industrial users to produce electricity for own use above 1MW are processed within 120 days.”

Deidré Baartman, DA Western Cape spokesperson on finance, economic opportunities and tourism, says: “I welcome this announcement which will reduce the sole reliance on Eskom for energy needs while, at the same time, provide for a more resilient and sustainable energy grid through the use of cleaner energy, such as solar and wind.

“I will be monitoring this commitment closely. Over 80% of all Western Cape municipalities have already passed legislation to source energy independently. I am glad that the president has heeded our call.

“All financially sustainable municipalities who applied for Section 34 determinations should receive approval to procure energy directly, bid window five for IPPs must opened as a matter of urgency and support wheeling frameworks in order to allow residents to sell their excess energy to larger consumers,” Baartman says.

Climate considerations

Ramaphosa also said government undertakes the decisive shift in SA’s energy trajectory at a time when humankind faces its greatest existential threat in the form of climate change.

He pointed out that the presidential commission on climate change will ensure that as SA moves towards a low carbon growth trajectory, no one is left behind.

“We will finalise the Climate Change Bill, which provides a regulatory framework for the effective management of inevitable climate change impacts by enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change – and identifying new industrial opportunities in the green economy,” he said.

In response, Greenpeace Africa’s political advisor, Happy Khambule, says: “Greenpeace Africa welcomes president Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement at SONA that the climate crisis is being taken seriously.

“Recognising the difficulty and complexity of the situation brought on by Eskom’s self-imposed years of decay, the president has displayed leadership and a commitment to safeguarding South Africa’s future by prioritising rooftop solar.”

Khambule notes that a just transition towards renewable energy needs to be at the core of Eskom's new business plan, and “it is good that the president has seen the light in this regard”.

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