The South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) has called for urgent dialogue between government, business, labour and civil society on the so-called ‘just energy transition’ in order to craft an action-orientated, government-led plan to facilitate a diversification of economies in coal- and gold-mining regions.
Chairperson Terence Govender made the appeal during a presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy on Wednesday.
He told the committee that SAREC recognised the need to minimise the negative economic and social impacts of the planned decommissioning of Eskom power stations over the coming ten years. Mitigating the impacts would be impossible, however, in the absence of a “concerted effort” facilitated at the national level by government.
SAREC is proposing that government consider the deliberate deployment of 5 GW of solar (photovoltaic and concentrated solar power), wind and battery storage projects in renewable energy development zones located in declining mining areas and for parts of the grid requiring storage.
SAREC argued that such a move, which is also being canvassed through the Public Private Growth Initiative, would stimulate new jobs and industries in coal regions.
“To successfully achieve this, the industry requires an urgent finalisation of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and issuance of Ministerial determinations so that the next round of procurement can proceed,” Govender told Engineering News Online in an interview following his presentation.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantasherevealed this week that the IRP, which has been under consultation for several months within the National Economic Development and Labour Council, would serve before Cabinet within weeks.
Mantashe also stressed the need for all technology options to be considered, including coal and nuclear.
SAREC’s comments come amid renewed load-shedding warnings as Eskom prepares to resume higher levels of plant maintenance during the relatively low-demand summer months.
Speaking at a conference on Wednesday, Eskom board member Nelisiwe Magubane warned that South Africa’s electricity supply could be insufficient to cope with any rise in demand, prompted by a return to higher levels of economic growth.
In a separate presentation to the portfolio committee, Council for Industrial and Scientific Research Energy Centre head Dr Clinton Carter-Brown attributed the ongoing threat of load-shedding to Eskom’s aging and poorly performing coal fleet, as well as to delays and performance issues at the utility’s mega-build projects.
Carter-Brown also reiterated that, by 2050, South Africa’s least-cost mix would comprise 70% solar photovoltaic and wind, which had been confirmed in the draft IRP 2018 and validated by a number of independent studies.
Pursuing the mix outlined in the draft IRP 2018 would result in a 100 000 job decrease in coal, but a net job gain as gas employment grew to 55 000 by 2030 and renewables contributed up to 110 000 jobs by the same date. There would be 375 000 electricity jobs in 2020, growing to 386 000 in 2030.
Carter-Brown stressed, however, that coal would play a major role for many years to come. “Coal will remain part of the energy mix even in 2050, albeit at less than 20%, with predominate use in industrial process heat.”
He also argued that transitioning to the future energy system would take time and, with coordinated planning, would also present major opportunities, including the production of green hydrogen and synthetic, carbon-neutral fuels and chemicals.
“Opportunities for new industries abound, however, the transition to these new industries, which are aligned with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will require new skills and research and capacity building will be key.”