King Coal defies his energy plan

 

 

COMMENT

Mineral resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is required to lead the shift from old energy sources to new ones, from coal to renewables, to source clean electricity as mandated in his integrated resource plan (IRP) and to honour the country’s international commitments to contain the climate emergency and ensure that the energy transition is managed justly and equitably.

The country faces a deficit of between 2 000 and 3 000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Mantashe knows this. The IRP, which sets how energy is generated and when, says as much.

But he has critics exasperated because, for new power to be sourced, a ministerial declaration has to be signed. Only he can do this. No signature means no new electricity, raising the risk of more load-shedding, further nobbling the economy.

One such critic is Anton Eberhard, who chaired the president’s Eskom sustainability task team. He tweeted on October 24: “Every time someone asks Minister @GwedeMantashe1 when he will initiate the next renewable energy procurement (which the IRP indicates is due) he accuses the questioner of being a lobbyist. But it’s about energy security. The lights are going off.”

Then, on November 9: “Last night’s power cuts are another reminder how short of power SA is. Why’s our energy minister not urgently implementing the IRP by initiating new public power procurements (as the law requires) & why’s he not relaxing licensing so businesses can invest quickly in own generation?”

And again on November 25: “International solar PV prices are down to US 1.69 c/kWh — ie ZAR 25 c/kWh in South Africa, or about a quarter of the average tariff of Eskom. Why is SA’s Energy Minister @GwedeMantashe1 prevaricating around authorising the next renewable energy auction?”

Another critic is Mike Levington, a renewable energy specialist. This week he tweeted: “I really don’t care whether DMRE [department of mineral resources and energy] people think nuclear, clean coal, power barges or gas are the future saviours of this economy.There is an approved IRP that determines that 11,6 GW of new generation capacity needs to be connected to the grid by 2025. 90% of that is renewable energy. It’s not my plan — it’s government’s plan to prevent load-shedding and buying expensive diesel. Guess what government is doing about implementing its own electricity security plan …”

The International Monetary Fund, in its report on South Africa, warned that action is urgently required. “The planned turnaround of the energy sector will have to be supported by a fully competitive environment for electricity generation with private sector participation, including by accelerating the licensing of new private power plants and expediting the bids for independent power producers; and transparently managed and independent energy transmission and distribution entities.”

Business Unity SA has urged Mantashe to launch a new round of procurement for renewable energy with urgency because wind and solar photovoltaic have the shortest construction times of all options and could bring more megawatts onto the grid within two years, Business Day reported on October 29. “However, renewable energy, which is provided by independent power producers and sold to Eskom, is politically controversial because trade unions and many in the ANC see it as a precursor to a privatised energy market.”

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) warns that we are on the brink of failing to limit global warming to 1.5°C. “We need to supercharge our climate action ambition. Every country, city, business and individual needs to accelerate their contribution.”

Electricity from renewable sources is cheaper than from fossil fuels, but Mantashe has not embraced clean energy solutions. He, for instance, says all technologies will be considered to make up the 2 000 to 30 000 MW shortfall.

When asked measures the minister had put in place to secure the shortfall the mineral resources and energy department said: “The department will release a request for information [RFI] to test the market for solutions to close an immediate electricity supply gap of between 2 000 MW and 3 000 MW … Information gathered from the RFI will inform a request for proposal, which will be released early next year to procure generation capacity to close up to 3 000 MW supply gap.”

In Mantashe we have a miner who also wears an energy hat. For him energy is something that you get out of the ground. But we can get it more cheaply and safely from the sun and the wind.

Energy and the physical environment should not be separable if we are to exist on our planet.

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Kevin Davie

Kevin Davie is M&G's business editor. A journalist for more than 30 years, he has worked in senior positions at most major titles in the country. Davie is a Nieman Fellow (1995-1996) and cyberspace innovator, having co-founded SA's first online-only news portal, Woza, and the first online stockbroking operation. He is a lecturer at Wits Journalism. In his spare time he can be found riding a bicycle, usually somewhere remote.

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