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South Africa won’t be ditching coal from the energy mix any time soon

DMRE Minister Gwede Mantashe again pinned his colours to the mast when he defended South Africa’s continuing use of coal, even as he admitted that renewable energy is certainly helping the country keep the lights on.

Speaking after delivering an opening keynote address at the Africa Energy Week on the V&A Waterfront, Mantashe reiterated his stance that any energy transition is a process rather than an event. He added that all countries in Africa need to make their own decisions about whether and how to make use of oil and gas resources.

Asked why South Africa had not signed up to a pledge to move away from coal use, created on the sidelines of COP26 – especially in light of forthcoming financing through the Just Energy Transition Partnership – Mantashe said the country cannot move away from coal any time soon.

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“Yes, the pledge is good, but it must not impose conditions on us to do what we must do. We are a developing economy. Our biggest challenge is access to a reliable, sustainable supply of power.

“It requires discussion in South Africa,” he said.

Mantashe kept on emphasising Eskom’s failure to supply enough baseload power. He said South Africa’s experimentation with clean technologies needed to continue even as more renewable energy projects came online, even as it explored fossil fuel resources to use for energy needed to boost the economy.

Jacob Mbele, DMRE deputy director-general said the country is running multiple processes to procure alternative energy sources, including the REIPPP programme and the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Programme, even as it continues to rely on coal. He reminded the media audience that these projects all take time and are all part of a broader plan.

Gas as alternative fuel to coal is part of South Africa’s future energy mix

“We have to do everything to maintain the existing base,” said Mbele. Pointing out the Integrated Resources Plan 2019 (IRP2019) commits the country to increase the use of renewable energy sources to 15% by 2030, Mbele said the IRP2019 does provide a broad schedule for how the country will decommission its coal stations.

“As we move to the closure of Komatipoort [Power Station], a plan should be developed to replace the capacity. It’s going to be gradual and behind every power plant there is a plan,” said Mbele. He added that the forthcoming funding commitment through the Just Energy Transition Partnership is not finalised and might even look at changing coal stations into gas-fired power stations.

While many arguments are being made for and against using natural gas as a transition source away from coal, all African countries are also trying to figure out how to best exploit their own natural resources to create energy.

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One issue holding South Africa back from setting up a gas infrastructure has been policy development. Oil and gas exploration is currently regulated under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002, but regulation governing exploration activity needs finetuning, which could happen through the long-awaited Upstream Petroleum Resources Development Bill.

Ntokozo Ngcwabi, DMRE deputy director general: mineral policy, promotion and investment, pointed out the new Bill is steadily making its way through Parliament. Currently, it is in the consultation phase, with meetings in Mpumalanga over the weekend, and then KwaZulu Natal next weekend. “Then it wraps up consultation by the end of the year,” said Ngcwabi. ESI

Log into the Enlit Africa session To LNG or not: is that the question? to find out more about gas exploration in South Africa.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.