Kathy Gibson reports – Government will tomorrow (26 April) announce support for the country’s biggest investment in renewables capacity yet.

This is the word from Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, minister of electricity in the office of the president, addressing the Solar and Future Energy Show Africa 2023.

As well as a new 15 000 MW bid window, he says new incentives for building industrial capability will be announced.

He points out that there is currently no capacity to produce solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels locally, but a combination of financing and regulation will make it possible for innovators to make investments.

“We are calling on innovators to invest, and we will invest with you. This will enable us to industrialise, create jobs, grow the economy and ensure the future of the country.”

The energy crisis is the most onerous challenge facing South Africans, says Ramokgopa. All South Africans are adversely affected by power issues, from farmers and manufacturers to businesses and households.

Indeed, the share of South Africa’s total exports as a percentage of Africa’s exports has reduced by 20 percentage points as a direct result of load shedding.

“Doctors are reluctant to perform emergency surgery because UPSes might not kick in, thus undermining the prospects of saving a life,” he adds.

When the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) released its decision on repo rates, it was aggressive partly because of the economic outlook which is expected to grow at just 0,2% largely as a result of load shedding.

“One stage of load shedding results in a GDP contraction of 5%,” Ramokgopa points out.

With load shedding devastating all aspects of our lives, people have lost the ability to put bread on the table and businesses have closed.

“People are aggrieved and they have every reason to be so,” Ramokgopa says.

The energy plan unveiled last year aims to rid the country of load shedding through the achievement of several outcomes including: fixing Eskom and improving energy availability of existing supply; enabling private investment in new-generation capacity; accelerating procurement of new capacity from renewables, gas and battery storage; unleashing businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar; and transforming the electricity sector to achieve energy security.

The delivery workstreams needed to achieve these outcomes include: improving Eskom plant performance and strengthening the grid; accelerating new generation capacity, including private investment and SSEG; demand management; security of infrastructure; distribution and wheeling; and strengthening the transmission network.

Tomorrow’s post-cabinet announcement should include the unveiling of a new mega-big window for over 15 000Mw of renewables, Ramokgopa says.

“That is the scale of how we are looking to get renewables on stream; and are anticipating the growth of the share of renewables in the country.”

“It is important that we build sufficient productive manufacturing capacity to meet the pipeline we are anticipating.”

In this respect, government will make it possible, via blended financing, for people to invest in the renewables space, and create financing options to make equitable access to renewables possible.

Today, Africa is an insignificant player when it comes to global energy demand, but exponential growth is expected in the years ahead. “And the role of renewables will be significant,” Ramokgopa says. “Our commitment to clean energy continues to rise; and we are going to rely heavily on innovators on the continent to take advantage of what lies ahead.”

Decarbonisation relies on platinum group metals (PGMs), with South Africa and Zimbabwe between them controlling 90% of these resources.

“We need to find ways to beneficiate on the continent, broaden industrial capacity, upskill youth to participate, and grow the economies of the continent.

“There is a nexus between the green future and the growth of our industrial base.”

Renewables are key to future energy production, Ramokgopa stresses. “Renewables including solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal energy may account for over 80% of new power generation capacity to 2030.

“And Africa is home to 60% of the best solar resources globally,” he says.

There are still significant challenges that need to be overcome including: inadequate generation capacity; insufficient government investment; major backlogs; limited reach of transmission and distribution lines; climatic conditions like droughts affecting hydro energy; poor maintenance; lack of reliable fuel supply; limited access to the transmission grid; losses in transmission and distribution; urbanisation and more.

“It is not all rosy and government needs to do something to address these challenges; to create a regulatory environment that makes it attractive for private producers.”