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De Ruyter’s views on a greener Eskom and cleaner energy industry for SA

On Tuesday, Eskom’s CEO, Andre de Ruyter spoke of rejuvenating South Africa’s industrial economy in an online University of Pretoria lecture and how the utility plans to tackle greening its future.

Considering that Eskom intends to retire 22GW of coal-fired generation capacity over the next 15 years, “it is clear that we have an opportunity to pivot away from Eskom’s carbon-intensive history, and lay the groundwork for a cleaner and greener electricity supply industry,” he stated.

Referencing the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, de Ruyter commented that while it may be tempting to demand that the developed world should decarbonise, and allow South Africa to fuel its growth with coal, the reality is starkly different.

Climate change modelling for South Africa has indicated the negative impacts on an already arid climate will render large parts of agricultural land too hot and too dry to cultivate.

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“Our economy, on a per capita basis, is 25% more carbon-intensive than China, and double the global average. South Africa emits roughly half the total carbon emitted by the African continent, and Eskom emits about 44% of the total South African carbon emissions. We therefore cannot ignore our carbon footprint. In addition, the world is penalising heavy carbon emitters,” de Ruyter added.

According to the utility CEO, this will put South African exports at a disadvantage because the energy that helped produce them comes from coal, raising the spectre of apartheid-era style sanctions. “Except, in this case, punitive trade measures won’t be directed against a racist state. They will be imposed on an environmental pariah.” Therefore, pivoting to green energy will create a competitive advantage for South African exports.

De Ruyter on a Just Energy Transition, plots out a greener Eskom

The Komati Power Station will be completely shut down in October 2022. “Eskom began the repurposing work at Komati this month, by preparing the site for a 500kW agrivoltaic plant, a microgrid assembly and fabrication factory,” he said emphasising that local labour and suppliers will be used as far as possible.

Further, Eskom plans to repower Komati in the next 12 to18 months, using a solar PV plant supported by 244MWh battery storage. Komati is ideally positioned to be a flagship Just Energy Transition project to act as a ‘proof of concept’ for subsequent projects at Grootvlei, Hendrina and Camden, all of which are scheduled for retirement by 2025.

De Ruyter explained that subsequent repowering projects at other Eskom power stations can potentially be accelerated if enabled by the availability of sufficient funding to support accelerated decarbonisation.

“Our own ongoing analysis and work done by various research bodies within the country suggest that through significant investment in solar PV and wind power, we could potentially create a net of 300,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs in the country over the next decade.”

Eskom will also use microgrids to provide electricity to the 13% of South Africans who are not currently connected to the grid. “Our pilot microgrid project has yielded positive results. Electricity is a catalyst for development and dignity – we cannot leave anyone behind,” said de Ruyter.

In closing, the CEO expressed a new vision for South Africa we can collectively reinvent and reimagine a future for South Africa, once again built on electricity, but this time based on clean and green energy.

The Eskom CEO was delivering UP’s annual Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial Lecture presented by the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology. You can watch de Ruyter’s speech online.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.