Civil society groups call on Mantashe for new renewable energy to be built immediately to address energy crisis

Sixteen civil society organisations have made an urgent call to Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe to immediately allow new renewable energy to be built and connected to the grid to address South Africa’s worsening energy crisis

In an open letter on Thursday, the organisations, which include the Koeberg Alert Alliance, Fossil Free South Africa and the South Africa Climate Action Network, pressed Mantashe to promptly issue a determination for the procurement of 13 600 megawatts of renewable energy and 1 575MW of storage. 

“It is not in dispute that the electricity crisis and load shedding continues to cause human suffering and cost the economy billions,” they wrote. 

And, with the country reeling from stage six blackouts and the economy losing between R20-million and R100-million an hour in each stage, “adding new electricity capacity to the grid has never been more urgent”.

Electricity Regulation Act

The letter described how section 34 of the Electricity Regulation Act provides for the mineral resources and energy minister to issue a determination for large-scale new electricity generating capacity (more than 100MW) that can be built. 

“The Integrated Resource Plan [IRP 2019] issued by your department calls for 20 400MW of new renewable energy generation to be built by 2030, as well as 2 088MW of storage,” the letter stated. 

“You [Mantashe] issued a determination on 25 September 2020 for 6 800MW of renewable energy, which leaves a remainder of 13 600MW for which determinations need to be issued. That determination also provides for 513MW of storage to be procured, which leaves a remainder of 1 575MW for which determinations need to be issued.” 

They said renewable energy and storage have been shown to be far quicker to build than other forms of electricity supply. “From the determination itself, it is clear that the issuing of determinations does not need to follow the timetable set out in the IRP 2019 in cases of urgency related to energy security.”

The groups have given Mantashe until 17 July to issue the determination. If he fails to do so, they will approach President Cyril Ramaphosa to instruct the minister to immediately do so.

‘New generation capacity now’

“We know we are in a crisis … and we need new generation capacity now,” said Peter Becker, a spokesperson for the Koeberg Alert Alliance at a media briefing on Thursday. “And the first step to new generation capacity … is for the minister to issue a determination.” 

This week, the National Planning Commission mooted an emergency plan to speed up the procurement of new generation capacity, which calls for 10 000MW of wind and solar to be procured, together with 5000MW of battery storage.

To address the electricity crisis, Hilton Trollip, an independent energy analyst, said, “The quickest and least cost way to do this relies mainly on an accelerated and sustained large-scale rollout of wind and photovoltaics [PV], which has been called for by many independent energy analysts.

“It’s been proven with models that this is the core of the solution, and also South Africa is quite capable of implementing this. Under the current law, the first and necessary step to achieve this is the determination, which is being called for.”

Societal cost

Energy specialist Clyde Mallinson told journalists: “I know that we can produce electricity in South Africa at one-tenth of the cost of what it costs with business as usual, if we factor in the externality costs of health, climate change etc. 

“So, why wouldn’t anyone want to move to a future where you can have electricity at a societal cost of one-tenth of what it is?  We can see what that societal cost is at the moment of not having electricity via load-shedding.”

While Mallinson is all for moving forward with the determination, “I actually hate the fact that the determination rests in the hands of a person [Mantashe] who seems to be determined not to exercise determinations”, he said.  

“What would be very useful is for the president or someone to come forward and say, ‘you know what the IRP 2019, or any new iterations of it, are designed for government or public procurement and it’s acting as a filler-in if you like … but for commercial things, you don’t have to adhere to any kind of plan, they just have to adhere to rationality’.”

Democratising ownership

He said South Africa has an opportunity to democratise the ownership of renewable energy. “We are not talking about great big utilities from Europe dominating our renewable energy scene. There are models that allow for ownership of this new fleet to be vested in currently unemployed South Africans and it’s not difficult to do so that’s what … keeps me getting up every morning.”

People in Europe “would give their left arms” to have South Africa’s solar and wind resources, “so we need to do it at all scales at the moment — at the utility scale, at the commercial and industrial scale and at the rooftop scale”.

This must be done in conjunction with storage technologies. “We need to be building solar as fast as we can, storage as fast as we can, simply because we’ve got behind where we need to be.

“The beauty of having wind with all this is that the wind blows over a 24-hour period and helps us fill in at the night time when obviously the sun goes down … We should be doing it across the country on all scales to get us out of this self imposed crisis we’re sitting with at the moment, which is not something we didn’t see coming.”

‘Get wind, PV onto system fast’

Trollip agreed. “The most urgent thing is to get as much wind and PV onto the system as fast as possible. A lot of that can be achieved via this determination and existing processes … The government has a whole lot of institutional capacity that has been used in the past to quickly put a lot of wind and PV onto the grid — unfortunately that’s currently stuck.”

The department of mineral resources and energy can get it unstuck, he said. “I believe where there’s a will, there’s a way but also where there isn’t a will, there isn’t a way and it’s been that way with the department for the past few years.”

Other ways to get PV and solar on the grid is through municipalities using the increased 100MW licensing threshold and the green light they’ve been given to procure power from independent power producers.

“Also, the minister could, through a determination, require Eskom to build a lot of wind and PV,” Trollip said. “The various regulations and tariffs being offered now by municipalities and Eskom for people to put PV on their roofs could be made much simpler and much fairer … that would unleash a huge amount of additional PV.” 

These interventions would make a huge difference to loadshedding. “It wouldn’t completely solve it, but it would take it down to every now and then, maybe a level two or whatever,” according to Trollip.

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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