Decarbonizing power generation in South Africa is no longer a technical challenge, it is a political and economic question, says the professor at the Graduate School of Technology Management at the University of Pretoria. David Walwyn.
The 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2019) predicts that it will take 30 years for South Africa to decarbonize its electricity production.
However, Walwyn stresses that “it is important that South Africa acts in a more urgent and decisive manner than described in IRP 2019”, noting that the growing appeal of stand-alone and connected rooftop solar systems. network can change the IRP projection.
The cost of South Africa’s energy transition is estimated at R550 billion, he said, noting that this capital will need to be raised in international capital markets, with a high expected return on investment, “given the rapidly declining costs of wind and solar power compared to that of coal ”.
In addition, Walwyn believes that higher levels of public funding can be mobilized and secured for the development of renewable energy projects through political activism.
“There are multiple demands on public money, pushed by different interest groups with different agendas. The success of any initiative requires a set of important precedents. “
These include a rapidly growing environmental problem that can lead to civil unrest, as can happen in areas heavily polluted by coal; the reduction in technical and economic costs for the solution of the problem, as is the case with the emergence of competitive wind and solar technologies; a supportive policy framework, such as IRP 2019; and strong political support from an effective ministry or minister, he explains.
Walwyn argues that the likelihood of such synchronicity is certainly increasing, but continued mobilization is needed in the energy sector to achieve South Africa’s energy transition.
The implementation of IRP 2019 was a positive step for the decarbonization of power generation in South Africa and ‘clearly essential’ to meet carbon emission reduction targets, as well as to mitigate other costs. environment and public health associated with burning coal for electricity, he told Engineering News.
The plan calls for around 30 GW, or 75%, of existing capacity to be shut down from 2021 to 2040 and replaced by wind (14 GW), solar (6 GW), gas (3 GW) and hydroelectricity (2.5 GW). .
Although South Africa is making progress in decarbonizing its economy through the Independent Power Producers for Renewable Energy Supply Program (REIPPPP), it is not happening fast enough, nor is it enough. substantial for the country to meet global carbon emission reduction targets. , he notes.
“South Africa is a major carbon emitter internationally; we are the fourteenth emitter per country and the tenth per capita. As for the Paris Agreement, South Africa’s rather moderate short-term targets are likely to be met, especially if the current economic recession persists.
The country’s 2030 target is to reduce its carbon emissions to between 398 million and 614 million tonnes per year, excluding changes due to land use and forestry, while the 2050 target is between 228 million and 444 million tonnes per year. .
“The average 2050 target, equivalent to a 25% reduction from current levels, will most likely also be achieved. However, this target will be insufficient to meet South Africa’s climate mitigation requirement of between 75% and 90% reduction, ”says Walwyn.
He adds that the country’s energy transition is an example of socio-technical transformation, which will be strongly contested because of the possible changes in economic relations that will result.
“All socio-technical systems have a well-established set of beneficiaries whose access to power and income is threatened by innovation and change.”
Resistance in South Africa has been manifested in protests by coal miners, truckers and unions in response to the planned closure of Eskom power plants and the advent of renewable energy.
“Eskom and the South African government have also played a dual role in the proposed transition, causing unnecessary delays towards decarbonization,” Walwyn emphasizes.
South Africa can learn from the UK and Germany, he says.
These countries were previously heavily dependent on coal and have significantly diversified their energy systems. By switching to renewables and gas, the UK has reduced its carbon emissions by 44% since 1990, while Germany has achieved a 29% reduction over the same period.
In particular, none of the large developing countries have been able to afford such transitions, with the Kuznets curve arguing that developing countries must initially rely on “cheaper and dirtier primary energy sources” before being able to adopt renewable energies.
The Kuznets curve is a hypothetical relationship between environmental quality and economic development.
“However, this argument is increasingly invalid, given the sharp decline in the cost of renewable energy technologies and the increasing cost of non-renewable alternatives. The reality is that all countries can avoid the peak of the Kuznets curve if the right policies are adopted, ”says Walwyn.
Encouraging events supporting South Africa’s energy transition are the release of Ministerial Decisions, as noted in the State of the Nation Address in February, which signals that the government will open REIPPPP Submission Window 5.
Walwyn says the logic of tendering by technology, rather than a procurement specification based on reliability and price, is however becoming increasingly redundant, arguing that the government needs to reconsider this approach.
“The proposed changes concerning the role of municipalities, in particular with regard to the authorization of solvent entities to obtain electricity from sources other than Eskom, are also a step towards the liberalization of electricity markets. electricity and could be beneficial for decarbonization, provided that municipalities do not choose “cheap and dirty” sources of energy. “
Meanwhile, Walwyn says technology transfer is always cheaper than local research and development (R&D) as a way to access new technologies.
However, it has also been shown that a country’s ability to learn through technology transfer is enhanced if there is local R&D.
Therefore, South Africa must support local R&D and provide stimulating conditions for technology transfer if it is to succeed in building a renewable energy sector supported by local innovation and manufacturing, Walwyn concludes.