The Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) has advised President Cyril Ramphosa to rapidly and significantly increase the use of renewables in South Africa to end load-shedding and stay away from fossil fuels.
The PCC recommended that South Africa “maximise” renewable energy in the long term, focusing on solar and wind power, and stay away from coal and nuclear energy.
While the commission left some space for energy generation through gas, it limited this to 3 GW to 5 GW of gas-fired plants, which should be built and used only at peak demand.
“There should be no new coal and gas should be kept to the role of peaking support,” the commission said in its report.
For electricity supply in the short-term, Happy Khambule, Business Unity South Africa’s environment and energy manager, who also sits on the PCC, told Business Day TV that the commission has two recommendations.
Khambule said that, firstly, the commission recommends rolling out as many renewable energy projects as possible to achieve energy efficiency and “at least realise some savings on the current national grid”.
The second recommendation involves the country’s peaking plants – power plants that generally run only when there is a high demand (peak demand) for electricity.
South Africa’s peaking plants are diesel-run open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) that Eskom runs when demand is high.
The PCC recommended moving away from using OCGTs, for which fuel costs can be very expensive, to other forms of peaking plants, such as gas plants.
Khambule said South Africa’s OCGTs are expensive, and the more they’re used, the higher the likelihood is of running into price shocks. In addition, over-utilising peaking plants could mean more frequent breakdowns.
One of the commission’s most ambitious recommendations was increasing renewables in South Africa’s energy mix from 7% to 40% by 2030 – this amounts to around 50 GW to 60 GW of renewable energy.
However, Khambule said this recommendation addresses the medium to long-term electricity supply.
He said this goal would take “concerted effort from the government to ensure we have a transmission grid that is ready for this”.
The government must also ensure consistency in programmes that allow deployment, like the REIPPP bid windows.
These programmes must be more consistent and frequent and allocate more for renewables.
According to Khambule, it is also vital for the government to decide on their plans going forward, as any energy generation project takes years to build. The country’s transmission grid will also have to be upgraded.
The commission called for a review of the country’s electricity price model as businesses and households grapple with a high cost of living.
Environmental groups have welcomed the reception to the PCC’s plan.
WWF SA’s senior manager for climate action James Reller said the commission had done an excellent job in consulting broadly and looking at the technical inputs to provide this guidance.
He said their recommendations provide clear guidelines for addressing the country’s short-term electricity crisis and achieving its long-term goals for a “clean future”.
Reller also applauded the commission’s extensive consultation process, wherein it engaged with technical experts and key roleplayers in the energy sector.
He said the commission’s near-term planning is sensible, but it is also a vision for the long term.
“It is critical that South Africa decarbonise, or we won’t get access to international markets with our products because of carbon taxes internationally,” he said.
However, not every roleplayer in the country’s energy sector supports a mass transition towards renewables.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has been vocal about his support for using fossil fuels and nuclear energy. “Coal is going to be here for a long time,” he said at a colliery in April.
At an energy conference in May, Mantahse voiced his support for nuclear power, saying, “We need nuclear. We have Koeberg. We must increase that capacity.”
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has also previously said he would prefer to extend the life of the country’s coal-fired power stations and slow down the pace at which South Africa transitions to renewable energy.
However, he is far more measured in his views than Mantashe. Ramokgopa has clarified that his preference for coal-fired power plants does not undermine the government’s commitment to decarbonisation.
“It’s not a binary question. It’s not fossil fuels or renewables – it’s both,” he said.