South Africa must diversify its energy mix urgently if we are to combat loadshedding and help future-proof the grid, says South African Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. This mix includes nuclear, as well as gas and oil, which Mantashe said would not be welcomed by everyone. “They can take us to court,” but we will continue. Mantashe was speaking at Enlit Africa 2023 on Wednesday, a day after he had tabled the Department’s budget vote speech to Parliament. He said the budget is “significant for society because these are commitments we are making publicly.”
“We all complain of loadshedding and we all say it’s a ‘terrible thing that must be solved as soon as possible’. “But we have to remember that today, over 90% of South Africans have access to electricity, close to universal access. “Add up that extra load against the slow uptake of generation capacity.”
Mantashe said increasing generating capacity must address the access to those who still don’t have electricity. The Minister, who had the audience in stitches with some off-the-cuff anecdotes, said he remembers not having electricity growing up in his village.
“The convenience electricity gives us instead of having to use wood to make fires… We are committed to connecting households to the grid until there is universal access.” He said 673,946 additional households had been hooked up to the grid for the first time and the government was determined to provide access to the more than 243,000 households still lacking this service.
In a wide-ranging speech, Mantashe said he would take the audience through some of the details of the Department’s budget. In terms of technology and clean energy, he said he always “counter posits” it with energy poverty. “It’s energy poverty versus energy cleanliness. We can’t separate the two.”
In terms of transmission, Mantashe said the ambition is to have a standalone power generating and transmission entity, unlike the current Eskom model, which largely focuses on bulk distribution. The dream is to be able to “send electricity” from across the country, he said. Renewable energy is the “new market that is emerging and it’s time to create this market.”
Transition is high carbon emission to low, not coal to renewables
The transition from high carbon emissions to low carbon emissions, “not strictly coal” is a “journey not an event.” “A combination of technology will aid the transformation from high carbon emissions to low carbon emissions. But we don’t want technology to exaggerate the cost factor.”
Nuclear energy, which Mantashe described as a safe, reliable energy generator, will be a source the government would continue to pursue. South Africans are highly allergic to nuclear, saying it is dangerous and ‘can’t be clean’. In 2024, Koeberg will be 40-years-old and there’s never been an issue.
“We need nuclear. We have to increase Koeberg’s capacity. It’s reliable. Also, lowest cost energy is from nuclear, cheaper than renewable at the moment.”
Shale gas exploration to continue as government push to diversify energy mix
“Money given to Eskom by the state is not a bailout, but an investment in technology.” Coal will also continue to be a crucial part of the government’s energy mix. “We insist on investing in clean coal technologies. It’s expensive now, but will be cost effective in a matter of time.”
Mantashe said grid capacity has increased. “We’ve added a lot of capacity to the grid… 786MW added. But 3,200MW wind capacity could not be added to the grid. “One of the major challenges, is a weak grid. Entrepreneurs should sit tight as government is looking to develop energy mix in provinces where the grid is stronger, like Mpumalanga…”
Government will continue to explore for shale gas and expects “people to take us to court many times.”
“If you are interested in producing shale gas come speak to us.”
With regards to oil, Mantashe said: “We are going to have it.” Citing the example of an oil giant drilling for oil in Namibia, Mantashe said South Africa should be drilling for oil at the Orange River.
Mining, energy sectors need to collaborate – Mantashe
In this era of loadshedding, he said Liquified Petroleum Gas was crucial. “It is important that we increase our consumption of LPG… for cooking and lighting.” He said government was in the process of finalising the resurrection of asset-stripped PetroSA which would take the form of the SA National Oil Company. In a nod to the mining sector, Mantasha listed several examples of mining companies that are investing billions of rands in alternative energy sources. “We are encouraging the energy sector and mining sector to get together. Get your act together and work together.”
In terms of a possible public-private partnership in the energy sector, Mantashe said it is a function of the state. “Don’t give away energy generation, but allow space for private [sector] to operate, but this is a function of the state.”