South Africa prioritises renewable energy to end blackouts

South Africa’s government is processing applications for projects to produce 9,789 megawatts of renewable energy, the nation’s environment minister said.

The requests are for plants that would generate 2,899 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power and 6,890 megawatts of wind energy, Barbara Creecy said in an emailed copy of a speech to lawmakers on Friday.

Many of those projects include battery storage systems and transmission and distribution infrastructure, she said.

“We are working hard to cut the red tape and get these projects finalized,” Creecy said. “We have reduced our decision-making time frames from 107 days to 57 days.”

The applications come after President Cyril Ramaphosa abolished a limit on the size of power plants private companies can have built for their own use amid the country’s worst-ever outages.

The total is equivalent to almost a third of South Africa’s current electricity demand, which state utility Eskom is failing to meet. Instead, rotational power cuts — known locally as load-shedding — of more than 10 hours a day are being imposed.

A major constraint to the projects being added to the grid is the lack of adequate transmission infrastructure. Creecy said 15 environmental impact assessments on transmission and environmental infrastructure projects are being considered.

The power crisis has led to calls for South Africa to extend the lives of some of its ageing coal-fired plants.

Electricity generated from coal accounts for more than 80% of South Africa’s power and is the main reason the country is the world’s 14th-biggest producer of greenhouse gases.

“Concern has been expressed that as we battle load-shedding, we are considering delays in decommissioning ageing coal-fired power stations,” Creecy said.

“Current modelling will advise how we balance our decommissioning schedule so we can achieve energy security within the context of our climate change commitments and air quality improvement.”


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