Minister of mineral resources and energy Gwede Mantashe has claimed that a “part of the load-shedding we are experiencing is due to an effort to move away from coal quicker than we could”.
Mantashe made these comments in an interview on the sidelines of the Black Business Council Summit.
The minister said that South Africa must be realistic and realise that it cannot rely completely on renewables for electricity generation.
Many European countries have realised this the hard way, said Mantashe, and are now retreating from the green transition and continuing to burn coal.
“We are excited now and want to switch off the coal and think everything will go well”, but South Africa will end up in the same situation if its transitions too quickly, according to Mantashe.
The pace of the transition has also threatened the security of South Africa’s power supply, according to the minister.
“I think part of the load-shedding that we are experiencing was an effort to move away from coal quicker than we could.”
In transitioning, South Africa allowed coal plants to deteriorate and “the result was darkness”.
According to Mantashe, the country has put a lot of emphasis on decarbonisation which has taken precedence over energy security.
Mantashe’s position has complicated the implementation of an $8.5 billion pledge by rich nations to help South Africa move to green energy.
He has previously said he doesn’t have a problem with being identified as a “coal fundamentalist” and has overseen a stop-start program to boost renewable power generation.
“South Africans must never allow ourselves to be encircled by the developed nations who fund lobbyists to pit our country’s developmental needs against their own self-serving protection of the environment,” he said.
“Our country deserves an opportunity to transition at pace and scale determined by its citizens.”
The country has many offshore oil and gas prospects, proven by recent discoveries in neighbouring Namibia, but searches for the resources have been blocked by environmental groups, according to Mantashe.
“Every time we touch that, we go to court. Touch it, go to court.”
The environmental concerns should be balanced with development, he said.